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Posted on July 11, 2014 by in Identity & Privacy, Personal

Mashable is one of my go-to sources for all things technology and cultural trends. Recently this post about a beginner’s guide to using the popular vacation rental service Airbnb appeared on my feed. It made me want to rent a flat in Paris, or maybe Amsterdam, immediately!

It also got me thinking about the multiple ways in which your personal information can be compromised during vacation rental transactions. Any reputable company will take active steps to protect its customers from scams, identity theft, and “phishing”, but these things do happen.

Phishing, the most common form of online identity theft occurs when a criminal captures your email password and accesses your personal email inbox. “Phishers” trick people into entering personal email credentials into fake login pages where they can steal your password. Then they can send and receive emails posing as you.

For a vacation renter that means you might end up sending your rental deposit to a criminal. For a homeowner renting out their home, it means inquiries from potential renters can be intercepted and request that reservation payments be deposited directly into their account. Yikes!

Make It Official

To avoid phishing scams make sure that when you check or send email that you use only your email provider’s official login page:

Gmail: accounts.google.com or mail.google.com

Yahoo! Mail: login.yahoo.com or mail.yahoo.com

Hotmail/Outlook: login.live.com

A Safer Home Away From Home

To ensure your safety when booking a vacation rental online, only use reputable vacation rental site like HomeAway/VRBO. This popular vacation rental exchange provides protection for travelers in their Carefree Rental Guarantee.

To ward off potential email phishers, HomeAway recommends the following:

  • Keep your computer, smartphone, or tablet patched and up-to-date with the latest anti-virus definitions
  • Don’t let other people use your owner account login and password
  • Don’t stay logged into your account from a public computer
  • Logoff the site when you are finished
  • Keep ALL passwords and login information secret
  • Have a different password for your email and HomeAway accounts
  • Notify HomeAway customer support if ANY of your email or even Facebook accounts have been compromised

They also recommend that you call the number for the owner provided on the HomeAway.com or VRBO.com listing before you issue any payment. If there is no number listed you can call their customer support team and they will give it to you.

Remember, it’s never a good idea to pay with cash, do wire transfers, or use Western Union to send money directly to another’s bank account. If a vacation rental host asks you to do this, just say no.

Opt-in to Two-step Verification

Two-factor authentication or two-step verification is a general good practice when making online payments, especially high-ticket items like deposits for vacation rentals. Introduced by Google, and now used widely by online payment services and banks, it simply means that when you login to an online account by providing your username and password you will go through an additional identification step such as receiving an SMS on your mobile phone with a new, unique code linked to your account. In order to authenticate you need to use the code as the final step to accessing your account.

These are great tips for staying safe when turning your dream vacation into a reality. Have a safe and happy vacation, wherever you go!

Image courtesy of Flickr user faungg.