Upset woman looking at laptop screen with fear

Vacation Rental Scams: How to avoid them.

Cassandra Garrison

Written by Cassandra Garrison, Real Estate Loan Specialist

Imagine you’ve just turned in for the evening. You might be reading a book, watching TV, or putting the kids to bed, when all of a sudden you hear a knock at the door. That’s strange – you weren’t expecting company this evening.

A moment later you’re at the door face-to-face with a couple who claims to have rented your home for the weekend! You have no idea who they are or how they got your address. Imagine your surprise when the couple presents you with their reservation confirmation and online listing that shows pictures of your home.

You now need to inform this couple that all of you have obviously been scammed because you have not rented your home to them or anyone, nor is that your online listing.

Displeased neighbors arguing in doorway

Sadly, this has happened to some who have reserved a vacation home or apartment online, and it can happen to anyone! Several stories have circulated from both guests and hosts regarding fraudulent activity and scams regarding vacation rentals by owners.

However, that does not mean you have to avoid reserving a vacation home. You just need to understand the precautionary steps to protect yourself.

Important steps to identify whether a vacation rental listing is legitimate.

1. Don’t book via email or pay the host directly

Be cautious with your communication to your hosts through email. You should avoid booking off site through email with the host for a vacation rental. Scammers will often try to get you to pay in advance through a third-party payment system and may even try to incentivize your advance payment by offering some kind of discount. If you have to communicate by email for directions or providing a copy of your identification, be cautious about any links that may be contained in an email.

Upset woman looking at laptop screen with fear

2. Verify the host

Check the host’s profile to see if they have been verified by the site as having uploaded identification, or if they have been given a “Super Host” badge for maintaining an overall high rating from previous guests.

3. Reverse image search the property’s photos

Do an image search of the property’s photos using Google. If images of the property start appearing from stock photo websites, there is a good chance the listing could be a scam. If images of the property appear on other listing sites, verify the host’s profile information is the same. Another good indication of a scam is the property address. A property address is never disclosed until after the listing has been booked. If the listing displays an address, there may be foul play involved, so do some more research before booking.

4. Pay attention to site URLs

If you click a link or an advertisement online that takes you to a vacation rental by owner site, be sure to pay attention to the URL. Check to make sure the URL links don’t misspell or misuse the site’s URL to try and resemble the legitimate site.

5. Book your reservation with a credit card or travel money card

Avoid booking your reservation online with a debit or check card. If your debit card becomes compromised than you run the risk of having your bank account compromised. If you think your account may have been compromised, contact your bank or card issuer right away to report fraudulent activity. It’s better to book your reservation with a credit card or travel money card. A credit card company may offer you additional protection in the event you are caught in the cross-hairs of a scam.

Woman purchasing with credit card holding phone

Remember, do your research before booking a vacation rental by owner. Verify the host and the listing. Never pay the host directly off site through a third-party, and never give out your personal information over email. And have a wonderful vacation!

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The Many Hats of Tracy Petersen

The Many Hats of Tracy Petersen

Tracy Petersen, Operations Officer for our Plentywood bank, has a heart of gold, especially when it comes to four legged friends. Tracy is involved with Wolf Point Pound Puppies Animal Rescue.

Wolf Point Pound Puppies

The organization started by rescuing local dogs from Wolf Point, MT, to help get dogs out of the pound and into “furever” homes. The mission is to work toward eliminating stray and unwanted animals from the area around Wolf Point as well as surrounding counties. They promote spaying/neutering, vaccinations and healthy care of animals.

Tracy applied to be a foster for Wolf Point Pound Puppies in August 2017 and began fostering Rain, a Llewellyn Setter, in September. Rain was removed from her home due to abuse and neglect. Usually animals are in foster homes for short periods of time. Such was not the case with Rain. Rain stayed with Tracy for 6 months and eventually the adoption was complete.

Rain and Friday

Rain and Friday

Rain is now a Therapy Dog registered with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs in Cheyenne, WY. She fits the bill of a great therapy animal because of her calm, kind, and patient temperament. She loves people, especially children, and long term care residents.

Tracy and Rain visit the Sheridan County Library for the “Reading with Rain” program, the Plentywood School for various reading celebrations, the Sheridan Memorial Nursing Home, and La Casa Personal Care. Rain seems to know who may need therapy and gravitates to anyone having a particularly tough day.

Rain Reading at the Library

Rain Reading at the Library

By adopting Rain, the Llewellyn Setter, Tracy has been involved in saving a dog. Today, she and Rain can be seen improving lives of school children, visitors to the Sheridan County Library, and area care facilities for the elderly. Tracy’s decision to adopt Rain started as a single act of kindness that now has given many in her community of Plentywood comfort at times when people need it most.

Rain at a School Visit

Rain at a School Visit

You can learn more about Wolf Point Pound Puppies here or visit your local animal shelter to adopt a “furever” pet.

Rain and Salvador

Rain and Salvador

“If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.”―James Herriot

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Prepare Your Home for Winter: Clean the Gutters

9 Ways to Prepare Your Home for Winter!

Fall Maintenance Team

Helena Real Estate Lenders – Katie Lawler, Dean Mogstad, and Kristen McLaughlin

Autumn in Montana can be a mix of summer and winter, depending on the day! Now is the time to prepare your home before winter settles in for good. Our real estate professionals in Helena have compiled a list of tips for fall home maintenance.

1. Have Your Roof Inspected

The standard rule of thumb in the roofing industry is that you should have your roof inspected twice each year, once in the spring and once in the fall, before entering each extreme season.

Roof inspections identify any problems before they occur, as well as gauge the remaining life of your roof. Fixing a roof can be the most expensive house repair an owner may face, so maintaining roof inspections twice a year is well worth the investment.

2. Clean the Gutters

Built-up leaves and debris in your gutter can cause water to back up in your gutters and downspouts, which will channel water down the side of your home where it can cause damage to the foundation of your home and potentially flood your basement. If you own a one-story home, you can probably clean your gutters by hand using a ladder, but be sure to wear gloves!

Clean the Gutters


3. Fertilize Your Lawn

Fertilizing you lawn in autumn will trigger renewed growth in the grass roots making your lawn thick and healthy which builds stamina in the grass before a cold  winter.

  • Apply lawn fertilizer 2 to 3 weeks before the ground freezes.
  • Keep an eye on the weather forecast for the first frost date in your area. The first frost date is typically a good time to fertilize since the ground hasn’t frozen yet.
  • Start with a clean slate by mowing your lawn right before you fertilize.
  • Never fertilize you lawn before a heavy rain to avoid runoff. Check the weather forecast before you fertilize.

4. Drain and Store your Lawn Equipment

Unused fuel goes through chemical changes that create deposits and can destroy your lawn equipment. Be sure to drain the tanks before storing them away for the year or run the engine until your equipment is out of gas.

5. Turn Off and Drain Outdoor Faucets & Sprinklers

Winterizing your outside faucets is important because it prevents them from freezing which can lead to a burst pipe.

Here are a few tips to help you winterize the right way:

  • Disconnect the garden hose from the outside faucet.
  • Determine if your faucet is frost-free or not.
  • Winterize your sprinkler system.

 6. Protect Your Home against Unwanted Invaders

Mice, squirrels, bunnies and other critters will be looking to escape the colder weather as it sets in. Inspect your home and garage for any holes or openings, and take the following actions to protect your home from unwanted visitors.

Lurking Squirrel

Look at your windows and doors. Seal your windows and make sure your screens fit well so bugs can’t get inside. Check for gaps in your doors. Use weather stripping or a door seal kit around the frame to keep bugs out and help prevent the heat inside from escaping your home.

Update your soffits. Walk around the exterior of your home and look for rotted fascia boards and cracked or missing soffit panels. If not well maintained, these could provide easy access for bugs and critters.

Use Flashing to Stay Dry. Those valleys on your roof and the connections alongside your chimney are common places for water penetration. If water penetrates the wood framing, you’re inviting termites into your home for dinner.

Install siding to block exterior crawl spaces. Nothing is cuter than a bunny – until it eats your electrical wires or chews a hole in your plumbing. These cute little animals can easily gain access where vinyl siding isn’t installed all the way to the ground. Replace any siding that has cracks, holes, or chips to prevent water leaking in and causing damage as well.

7. Inspect the Inside of Your Home

Check to make sure your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are working properly.

8. Clean Your Chimney and Fireplace

Chimney Sweep

Chimneys may contain buildups and obstructions that impair its ability to properly filter smoke out of your home.

Professional chimney sweeps use equipment that has been designed to effectively remove creosote from the chimney liner and smoke chamber. A chimney sweep can also inspect your fireplace and chimney for any signs of damage that may need to be repaired.

9. Get Your HVAC serviced

When you’re done using AC for the year, be sure to have the coils cleaned. Cover your AC unit to keep leaves, debris and ice from damaging your system. Before you switch to using heat, check if your filter needs to be changed first, and make sure all vents are uncovered.

Clean your dryer vents in the fall. Cooler, drier weather means there will be more static electricity and a bunch of lint in your dryer vents creates a risk for fire.

You should also look at having your air ducts cleaned too! A periodic air duct cleaning promotes healthier living and reduces the dust, allergens and irritants that build up over time in your air ducts.

Once you have checked all these items off this list, settle in for a comfortable, cozy winter ahead.

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