A Day in the Life of a Vacation Rental Manager: "Billy the Kid" Scam

    The following story takes place quite a few years ago ... before I opened Vacation Rentals of the Desert. At that time I was managing the vacation rental division of a local real estate company. This was my first and only direct experience with this type of "rental scam" and is only one of a multitude of scams going on every day.  Managers must constantly keep themselves informed and involved in their vacation rental properties.

    "Billy the Kid"

    Some years ago I ran into this wily scoundrel … I’ll call him “Billy the Kid.” 

    “Billy the Kid” had rented a property from us for a three month stay, and of course he received a nice discounted rate due to the length of his reservation.  

    The story unfolded after one of our maids reported that she had been approached by a lady while cleaning a neighboring property. The lady asked if she was available to do a cleaning job for her. Since the lady was staying at a property that we managed, the maid called our office to see if she could be scheduled to do the cleaning.

    Our maid told us the name of the lady who spoke to her and the address of the property…but that name did not match the one on our reservation for that property. This is not unusual. There are many occasions when two couples will rent a property together, or in some cases a wife will keep her maiden name.

    We were not alarmed, but we did call the guest to confirm that someone from their party had indeed ordered the clean.

    When we asked whether “Billy the Kid” had requested maid service, the guest explained that they had rented the property from the owner, and that the owner’s name was “Billy the Kid.”  

    Now I had lots and lots of questions for the guest. It turned out that the guests had found the property advertised in their local newspaper months earlier, reserved the property for two weeks and paid “Billy the Kid” directly. Aha!

    "Billy the Entrepreneur"

    Apparently “the Kid” had a relative in the desert that he would visit during the winter season. He would rent vacation properties for multiple months to get the lowest rental rate then advertise the property in his hometown newspapers and Internet sources several months prior to his arrival, then sublease them out for shorter periods of time at a significantly higher rental rate.  After arriving at his relative’s home in the desert, he would check into the property and collect the keys, garage door remotes, etc.

    A little more digging and we found that we were not the only rental company “Billy the Kid” had targeted, and, in fact, it looked like he was running his very own vacation rental company right under everyone’s nose!  After repeated attempts, we were unable to reach him for comment. Of course, by then he knew that we were on to his wily ways.

    Since the truth about “Billy the Kid” came out at the end of the three month reservation, we welcomed “the Kid’s” guests to stay. They were, after all, innocent victims and as surprised as we were. We reported “Billy the Kid” to the police but it did not go anywhere as far as I know.  “The Kid” was not a U.S. citizen, and by then, I’m sure he’d have high-tailed it out of the U.S.

    A year later it happened again: “Billy the Kid” was back. He had used another name on his reservation, but when we spoke to a guest who called our office after not receiving their refund deposit, they explained that they had rented directly from the owner, “Billy the Kid.”  Apparently they had found our company information in the property during their visit and had taken it home...just in case. They thought there was something “strange” about “the Kid.”

    Needless to say, we have learned to be extremely cautious. We routinely visit our guests no matter their length of stay. These visits have created some very long-lasting relationships and the number of our repeat guests has soared. I also recommend that managers give several business cards to new owners and make sure they pass them out to their neighbors. I’m sure they will call if they feel something is not quite right. 

    Also … call your guests periodically. This serves two purposes: one, your guest will feel welcome and view you as a caring management company, and two, you’ll know that the guests at your property are the ones you rented to.

    Last I heard there was a warrant out for “Billy the Kid.”  I would expect that he does not come to our area any longer … but I’m sure he’s out there … somewhere!  

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