If you are a Game of Thrones fan and you want to go to King’s Landing, you have to head to the island of Malta’s city of Mdina. In fact, the hit series used many places around Malta as locations for numerous iconic scenes because of its architectural heritage and diverse landscapes. But it is not just prehistoric temples and towers which have survived millennia that make Malta a special place. There’s the clearest and cleanest water in the Mediterranean that is idyllic for swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving. Its churches and museums boast of incredibly ornate décor with gold on top of gold, and works of master Italian painter Caravaggio who created the Baroque syle. There are fossil-studded cliffs and hidden coves that you can go to in the space of a few hours. Combine them with friendly people and rustic, flavorful Mediterranean cuisine and you will feel it casting a spell on you.

But because Malta has not made a lot of effort towards tourism infrastructure and commercialization, there aren’t many quality hotels in the country especially outside the central locations. Finding a good hotel can be quite a challenge with your choices limited to boutique hotels with dubious claims or giant chain hotels that cost too much. A good middle ground would be vacation rentals that are much cheaper than hotels but have all the amenities of a private residence. Instead of eating out three times a day, you can save a bundle using your vacation home’s fully-equipped kitchen. You will have all the comforts of home because that is exactly where you are staying: a home. At your disposal are full-sized appliances, plenty of beds, big screen televisions with hundreds of channels, the latest game consoles, and other luxuries you won’t find in hotels. Then there is all that space to stretch out, unwind, and enjoy unlike hotel rooms that are virtual shoeboxes.

But more than just a vacation getaway, rentals can give you access to one-of-a-kind experiences. In Malta, you can choose a traditional house built around 1500 but with air conditioning, flat screen TV, WiFi, private bathrooms and a whirlpool on the terrace. Maybe you would rather have a modern seafront apartment at the yacht marina with spectacular views of Malta Grand Harbor? How about a converted 150-year-old farmhouse that preserves its bucolic style amidst a swimming pool and pastoral gardens? A chateau with a lake style pool and a spa courtesy of Holiday Villas Malta maybe? Or have you dreamed of staying in a houseboat with modern conveniences where you can fish for your dinner? All of these are possible with “home-away-from-home” vacation rentals. If your house is not the architectural masterpiece you want it to be, you can rent a vacation property that excites your aesthetic senses and bring home some design inspiration with you.

All of these dream hideaways, and many, many more in Malta are just a few clicks away. The Internet has made finding a rentable relaxing seaside villa or a luxury open-plan condominium faster, easier and cheaper. Gone are the days when searching for a private vacation rental entail a lot of phone calls, a sheaf of mailed brochures, and all kinds of coordination. The World Wide Web connects homeowners and travelers usually through a vacation rental listing website. It provides potential guests with pertinent information like an interest-generating headline, a thumbnail photo, a full description, a list of rental rates and amenities, more property pictures, an availability calendar, and guest reviews. There are even specialty websites that target a specific pastime like golf or scuba diving, or a particular demographic like honeymooners or pet owners. It’s easier more than ever to comparison shop when you are looking for a vacation home rental in Malta.

But like anything else online, there is a “buyer beware” element to booking vacation rental properties. Vacation rental scams come in all shapes and sizes starting with copying and pasting glossy photos, enticing blurbs, and positive customer reviews of fictitious properties. Once the security deposit is sent, the scammers take the money and run. Digital tricksters with no real estate can run Web portals that attract users through search engine optimization, and sell them as leads to real agents who will up the rent to offset costs. Other variations include showing fabulous pictures of unavailable properties, and steering the renter to a less desirable spot the moment he shows up with his luggage. Then there is the practice of overbooking a property and whoever arrives last is diverted to a second-rate back-up along with sincere apologies. So how can you safely make an online booking of a vacation home with 99.9 percent confidence you are not getting scammed?

Do not fall for phenomenal photos.

The nicest-looking home may be the most photoshopped property. Some scammers steal photos from pricier properties in rental ads and pass them off as their own. One way to check it is to right-click on the image, copy the URL, and paste it in the box at images.google.com. It will tell you if the picture was lifted off from another property listing. You may also request from the owner additional pictures or ask him or her to show you the property live through Skype or FaceTime. You can use Google’s Street View to get a real look of the property’s exterior, and confirm if it truly exists at the listed address. Examine closely the gallery. If you see snow-capped mountains in the background, chances are you are not booking a home in Malta.

Cheaper is not necessarily better.      

While affordability is one of the advantages of vacation rentals compared to hotels, those that come very, very cheap may be fraudulent. The saying “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is” applies here.  Scammers are wont to post attractive vacation hideaways at low, low prices to entice tourists hunting for a bargain.  It’s a good idea to go with reputable companies like www.maltasothebysrealy.com – villas.  So how will you know if the beach retreat with an ocean view or the villa on top of the hill has fair pricing? Look for other listings in your preferred area to get a feel of the going rates. If the price is unbelievably discounted compared to similar properties in the vicinity, ask the owner why that is the case. If you receive indirect answers, canned responses, bad grammar and other odd reactions, move on to your next choice.

Be wary of unusual payment methods.

Apply some skepticism if the purported owner insists that you pay by means of wire transfer or money order. Those are the preferred methods of payment of scammers, and you will never hear again from the “owner.” A safer choice is to pay by credit card as these financial services allow you to recover your money in case it is lost to fraud. Read the payment terms in the emails very carefully but never give out your credit card information online. Do not provide also your Social Security, passport or driver’s license number. Make sure you are transacting business on a legitimate vacation rental website which can hold your security funds in escrow before you get the keys. There are sites that offer insurance against scam but that’s an added cost that may not cover much. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Contact the owner.

Confirm the identity of the owner by cross-referencing him or her across social media sites and other websites. If the owner indicated his or her place of residence, make sure it is the same as the one you got from him or her. You may want to use a search engine to check the phone number listed on the ad to know if it is legit. Better yet, call the phone number provided and run away if it is disconnected or goes unanswered. If someone answers the call, ask pointed questions and listen thoroughly to the answers. Maltese and English are the two official languages of Malta so be leery if the use of the English language of the speaker is atrocious. It is more difficult to scam someone on the phone compared to communicating online.

Do not rush to a decision.

Take your time in going over the lease contract and appraising the documents of ownership. Read the reviews of previous customers and query them about their experiences. When a previous renter posts “Thanks, Leonard and Jacqueline, for letting us use your home…,” check if the names correspond to the name of the person renting the property to you. If the names do not match, it is a sign that there might be something wrong. You can ask a local agent to check out the property on your behalf. If there is something that does not feel right and you cannot put your finger on it, trust your gut instinct and look for something better. Use common sense especially if you notice red flags throughout the whole process. It is your vacation and you should feel at ease before, during, and after.