Here's how one scam works. Thieves hack into the email of property owners listing their properties on popular vacation rental sites like VRBO.com. The thieves pose as the owner and send forged contracts to potential renters, telling them to deposit money in a bank.
Another ploy: criminals lure potential renters with properties that are in foreclosure or don't even exist.
To protect yourself, Consumer Reports advises before you send any money, call the owner and develop a business relationship. That way you can assess the legitimacy of the listing and the person's right to rent it.
How you pay is also important. Never use payments like wire transfers, cashier's checks or money orders. They don't provide protection in the event of fraud.
The safest ways to pay are by credit card, PayPal or by using the payment transfer option on the rental website.
Consumer Reports also recommends using the website Flipkey if you want to rent a house or apartment. It conducts background checks on landlords and makes sure the properties are legitimate.
Consumer Reports says you might also consider rental guarantee insurance. The vacation websites VRBO and Homeaway provide $10,000 of coverage for $39.