A VRBO phishing scam with an unhappy ending

Today I’m revisiting a case I first reported on back in November and followed up on last month. It involves Tania Rieben, who had rented a condo in Maui through VRBO.com.

Or at least, she thought she had.

After she wired $4,300 for a six-week rental, the person claiming to represent the property stopped answering her e-mails, and she soon made a stunning discovery: The “owner” was actually a scam artist who had obtained the real owner’s e-mail password and assumed his identity.

VRBO said it wasn’t responsible for her loss, since the owner’s email address had been compromised. But it promised to help negotiate a settlement between Rieben and the condo owners.

And that’s where we left off. But before I get to the rest of the story, I wanted to revisit some of the emails between Rieben and the scammer. I thought it would be instructive to see how these criminals operate.

Scammer: For 1 month the lowest price i can offer you is $4850. And we can work a little bit on it if you are willing to pay the whole month in advance, i say i can cut another 20%. Let me know when you make a decision, by the meantime if you have any other question please do not hesitate to contact me.

Rieben: I’m actually looking to rent this for my parents in law. I think they were looking for something around $3500. I can ask if they would be okay to pay up front but is this price something you would consider? Thanks so much!

Scammer: As i have told you in the previous e-mail, if you pay upfront i can give you another 20% discount, so that would mean around 3800, i am afraid is the best price i can give you. Let me know what you decide.

Anyway, the point is, she fell for it. I might have, too.

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VRBO got in touch with the condo manager, who added a few facts. Apparently, Rieben had contacted the condo manager first and was given a higher price. She was also told that the rental management company was the only one authorized to rent the units — in other words, that anyone else saying they’d rent her the condo wasn’t legit.

A VRBO representative said Rieben approached the scammer, believing he was the owner and presumably would undercut the management company with a lower price. And that’s when she was scammed.

Rieben says she believed she was dealing with the real owner the entire time. (And besides, doesn’t it make sense to shop around?)

The property manager told me that she was the only one authorized to rent units AFTER everything was said and done. My whole point was that if she had told me this when I first called her the money would never have been wired.

“At this point,” a VRBO representative told me, “it’s a case of ‘he said/she said’.”

VRBO’s position is that it’s done all that it can. It’s tried to get both parties talking, but last I heard, they were playing phone tag. (The condo owner, according to VRBO, had left messages for Rieben and her father, but Rieben doesn’t recall receiving any messages.)

It pains me that I can’t help Rieben, and others like her, recover their money. But I’m equally troubled by the attitude VRBO and its parent company, HomeAway, has taken about these complaints. They regard themselves as nothing more than the intermediary in the transaction, and appear to be behaving as if they have no obligation toward the guest.

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The folks who found their scammy rentals through VRBO and HomeAway obviously feel otherwise, and I can understand why. HomeAway has a commanding market share and it presents itself as a trusted intermediary that stands behind every rental, not some fly-by-night rental operation that’s a half-notch above Craigslist.

Does VRBO have to do anything here? No. It is not legally liable. But if it wants to keep its reputation, it might consider ensuring every one of these phishing cases — including Rieben’s — is resolved.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • lorcha

    No. Enough is enough. Rieben tried to cheat the management company out of its commission and probably VRBO out of their fees, as well. This is well-earned karma biting her in the rear end.

  • Not at all sure what VRBO could do in this particular case. Should they coerce the owner to give the OP a few nights’ stay because after all, it was the owner that allowed his email to be compromised? That being said, VRBO should definitely look into being an intermediary with the money as well, using a 3rd party site like Paypal. But if people are bypassing the site to make deals on their own, at that point, VRBO is out of the loop and therefore can’t be held responsible.

    Tough loss for the OP, though. However, if rentals were my legitimate business, I’d certainly offer another payment option to customers that doesn’t include wiring money…


  • sdir

    Normally I’d say VRBO owes it to their customers to support  and help them with such dire situations, but in this case, I honestly feel much of the fault lies with the customer.  She was told the management company was the only authorized contact to rent from, yet she insisted on breaking the rules and trying to get a steal.  If she hadn’t tried to play the system, I’d be more sympathetic.  It’s terrible she was scammed and of course I hope someone helps her. But do they owe it to her?  Absolutely not.

  • bc

    I voted NO because I just helped my parents navigate this site for a rental in Scottsdale for March. The instructions are pretty clear on how and when you should contact the property owner. They used a credit card so they’re protected (and followed the rental instructions).

    I will say though, this is the second time we’ve heard about a VRBO property account being hacked. I’m guessing these property owners are getting phishing emails from scammers posing as potential renters and the emails contain key loggers/viruses which are then infecting their property owners’ computers. 

    It sounds like VRBO should be more proactive and create a hosted email program which only allows for emails within their system. This would increase security because VRBO could control what types of attachments are being sent to/from property owners.

  • I voted no.  I disagree though with the other posters who felt that the OP was stealingor cheating.  There is no moral imperative that requires the OP to book only through VRBO.com.

    However, by bypassing VRBO.com the OP needs to understand that she is also bypassing any protections afforded here by VRBO.  Accordingly, it is disengenious of the OP to seek redress through VRBO after trying to go around them.

  • Rebecca

    I just don’t see how anyone could think she should be compensated by anyone for her own stupidity? Who exactly is supposed to lose money to give her some sort of compensation?

    The management company certainly has no responsibility, as they directly advised her not to proceed with the transaction.

    VRBO ultimately had nothing to do with the transaction. She went outside of the system used on their site; she admits she actively sought out the owner’s email to bypass the procedure VBRO uses to rent properties.

    The owner obviously wasn’t aware their email was hacked and someone was using their identity to scam the OP. For example, say this same scammer used the owner’s personal information to open a credit card account and ran up a $4300 bill. This is akin to the credit card company saying that because they “allowed” their identity to be stolen and they don’t want to write off the loss, that the owner should have to pay at least some of the money back.

    I understand that she is out the money, but I just don’t see any valid argument for any other party to compensate her, thus losing money themselves. Why should someone who isn’t at fault have to pay for her loss?

  • finance_tony

    No way.  The customer tried to make an end run around VRBO to cheat it….and then didn’t do even basic due diligence like pay with a credit card or intermediary. 

    You should charge her for wasting your time.

  • Raven_Altosk

    How could ANYONE fall for those emails? They look like they were written by a third grader. The two biggest flags in a phishing email are: 
    1. Wire me something, upfront, no other payment option
    2. Grammar and spelling that are downright atrocious.

    AND…if she thought she could backdoor the deal, how is that the management company’s fault?!?!

    Stupid is as stupid does.

    If she fell for that email, I’m a Nigerian Prince looking to reclaim my fortune. She can send me $5000 to cover the taxes and I’ll split it with her!

  • emanon256

    Chris, is this the same care where the consumer purchased insurance which was supposed to include fraudulently represented houses, but the insurance company denied it because it was a real house?  Or was that another VRBO Scam?
    Learning that the consumer was negotiating with the rental management company first, and the tried to go to the owner, makes me feel far less sympathetic.  Though it seems an odd coincidence that the owners e-mail just happened to be hacked by someone who knew about their rental property at the same time she was trying to undercut the management?  Perhaps the owner or management company was in on the scam? 
    I have used VRBO many times, and found that several of the owners take credit cards, which I feel is much safer to use.  I did rent twice where they would only take a check, but after speaking with the owners they always seemed trustworthy, and I only had a pay a deposit up front and the rest upon arrival.  Maybe I got lucky those two times.  On the other hand, I would never wire money for something like this.  I stick to wiring to people I know, or business transactions where I do the wiring bank-to-bank in person.

  • I hate to say it, but since she went outside of VRBO to get a better price she lost the protection that VRBO can provide her.  She basically put a price on the protection VRBO offers and lost.  Granted, the owner should be more careful with their email, but it’s not their fault the actions of the OP either who opened this door.

  • vulturesandhyenas

    Is it not possible that the scammer and alleged owner are in league with each other?  Having the owner as an accomplice would certainly make the scam work very smoothly, while distancing the owner from the theft.

  • TonyA_says

    I agree. This almost like saying that the US Treasury should refund anyone who is given a counterfeit bill by a vendor. Or, blaming a bank for a fake cashier’s check.

    Yup there are a lot of crooks out there so deal with people you can trust. Websites are not people. Using a credit card is the only way to deal with a website.

  • andrelot

    bc, this would be a sensible solution. Like other third-party vendors, VRBO should create an specific @vrbo email for all properties listed, and make it known that email can be monitored/read by some “dispute resolution” team. And to write an email the owner should have to login on VRBO website with some sort of verification such as SMS check.

  • Nikki

    I voted no because the details in here – past the emails – are hard to prove.  VRBO logically can’t be held responsible for the criminal actions of someone else.  The OP really should have verified all the information with someone at VRBO – she might have had more of a leg to stand on.

    I feel bad for her though… that’s one lesson that turned out to be way more expensive, for all the wrong reasons.

  • Charlie Funk

    No, there isn’t a moral imperative but when she bypasseed VRBO thinking she could indeed take advantage of the work THEY had done and avoid whatever their compensation might have been in an effort to save money, SHE assumed the risk and must suffer the consequence.  VRBO owes her nothing

  • Charlie Funk

    The OP is due NOTHING.  According to the info here, VRBO told/advised her that they, VRBO, were the only authroized renting entity.  Some who have replied take humbrage at characterizing the OP’s actions as cheating VRBO.  That is perhaps the kindest characterization. 

    This is akin to visiting a car dealer and getting pricing information on a particular vehicle, then searching the internet and finding the exact same car, sending the purported owner payment for the vehicle only to learn it is a scam and then expecting the original dealer to give them the original car.

    I’m going to send this info to dictionary.com to append the definition of chutzpah.

  • BillCCC

    I hate to say it but she tried to get a better deal and was scammed. Another point in the expensive lesson learned column. It does make sense to shop around but she tried to buy the same item at a lower price by cutting out the middleman and it didn’t quite work out for her.

    I am surprised by Chris saying he might have fallen for the same scam.

  • Joe

    Christopher, you’re leaving out a key piece of informaton here. Was the owner’s VRBO account compromised, or just his email account? If his VRBO account was compromised, then VRBO can be at fault for not having a secure login process. If your email is hacked, you can’t get your banking password emailed to you without some kind of other verificaton. And nowadays even a number of non-finanical systems have some sort of two factor and/or IP address authentication in place, so even if someone hacked your email, or has your password you won’t be able to get in.

  • Ahhhhhhhh, the plot thickens…

    I think I feel less sorry for the OP now that I know she tried to work the system.

    To be honest, I don’t know the bad grammar/poor spelling and punctuation would have been a red flag for me.  Owning property in the United States/Maui isn’t predicated on English being your native language.  What DOES send up all kinds of red flags was going from “I can’t go any lower” to “Okay, here’s the lowest I can go and it’s a much lower number”.  Sounds more like a used car sale than a vacation rental.

    I’m also not sure the owner isn’t the “scammer”.  I’m sure these people already know VRBO won’t intervene should someone’s money be stolen and it’s too easy to say, “My e-mail was hacked”.

    My suggestions for changes to prevent this in the future:

    1.  Offer some alternate payment scheme such as PayPal or the ability to pay using a credit card.  Setting up a site for commerce is a no-brainer.  MY website can be set up to accept payments online, I just haven’t done it.

    2.  No owner should be able to register with a second layer e-mail address such as Yahoo, GMail, Hotmail, etc.  Those are RIPE for hacking.

    3.  All payments stay in escrow at VRBO or some such until the stay is completed, with a small percentage being released to the owner/management company to hold the reservation.

    4.  Any manager/renter found to be circumventing the system (as this OP was doing) is banned from the service for a time for the first offense and so on for each attempt.

    But that’s just me…

  • Joe

    VRBO doesn’t get a commission, you pay 1 flat fee to list there for the year.

  • TouchyFeely

    “She was also told that the rental management company was the only one authorized to rent the units”

    How could you possibly help her after knowing she was TOLD the mgmt company was the only legit agent for the rental?!?!?

  • TouchyFeely

    Most people who get scammed are greedy.  Too good to be true offers, someone with a “better deal”, most are easily preventable.

  • Extramail

    If an outfit like PayPal can create a fairly fail-safe method of transferring money, then vrbo ought to be able to also. I’m deeply troubled by this as I have rented through their site at least a dozen times, the last time about 2 years ago. Given the bad stories I’ve heard about vrbo lately, I have hesitated about looking for a spring break property. That’s the kind of negative publicity that vrbo needs to be careful about or there will be no vrbo within the next couple of years. It really is a shame that vrbo hasn’t been more proactive in making their site as safe as possible.

  • sanibelsyl

    I voted with the minority (NO) but the minority seems to be the most vocal here on the comments.  And I agree with most everything that has been said.  As a vacation rental owner, I would add one more note to what has been written.  VR owners, when they do offer better discounts and better pricing than their agents on the same property, are sending the signal that rental guests should circumvent the system.  While there is enough blame here to go around to everyone (VRBO, the OP and the owner), the major portion, IMO, belongs to the person who pushed to get a steal.  She did.  But she was the victim, not the perpetrator. 

  • Joel Wechsler

    I voted no for two reasons:
    1. Anyone who wires full payment in a case like this is asking for trouble, which, in her quest for a bargain, is what she got.
    2. A careful reading of the scammer’s e-mail suggests that he or she is not a native English speaker. This alone should raise a very large red flag.

  • Pegtoo

    I was thinking about that too….

  • Carverfarrow

    Isn’t that what I said?

  • erikishere

    Elliott, I’d say 80 to 90 percent of the time I vote for you to intervene on behalf of the injured party but in this case, I can not. There’s a popular investment saying that goes something like this: “Bulls don’t get slaughtered, bears don’t get slaughtered, but pigs do”.  Rieben got “greedy” and unfortunately paid the price for a “bad investment”. She tried to bypass the legitimate rental agency, even after being told that the rental agency was the only party authorized to rent the rental-units. By the way, I’ve been reading your column for years. Love your “work” Elliott. Was a pre-orderer of your book, Scammed. Half way through and have learned so much. Thanks for being our consumer advocate.

  • Christopher…reading the comments I think there is some confusion as to the function of VRBO in this process. 

    Correct me if I am wrong, but “the condo manager” and VRBO are two separate entities. From what I understand of VRBO they do not actually handle the financial aspects of the transaction, a potential renter goes to their website, fills out a contact form, and then VRBO passes that info along to the owner/property manager. 

    At this point VRBO is largely out of the process, all negotiation takes place between the owner (or property manager in this case) and the renter.

    So, from what I understand Rieben used VRBO appropriately to get in contact with the property manager. The scammer then claimed to be able to give her an additional discount by cutting the manager (and presumably the manager’s commission) out of the buying process. 

  • Carverfarrow

    I took umbrage at calling it cheating.  Specifically because the OP, stupid though she is, isn’t bound by the rules of VRBO.  She is perfectly entitled to conduct the transaction any way she desires.

    A better example is going to a car dealer, taking up the salesperson’s time, then buying from someone else.  Its a little sketchy but not unethical

    You agreed with me in the earlier post that her contacting the owner directy did not violate any moral imperatives….thus by definition we cannot call her actions cheating.

    Now, the field is wide open for calling her actions stupid, ignorant, and I agree chutzpah works.

  • I thought about this as well, but since it’s an email account just like any other, what’s to stop their @vrbro:disqus account from being hacked thru no fault of vrbo? They’d just be opening themselves up to blame.


  • Carverfarrow

    If that’s true, how can you log into your account from different places, e.g. on vacation.

  • LadySiren

    While I truly feel for the OP and her in-laws, it appears she was also gaming the system a bit.

    If the management company is the only one authorized to handle bookings and the OP went around them (i.e. – directly to the owner) in order to get a better deal, the onus is on her, IMO.

    You roll the dice and take your chances. In this case, the OP got burned.

  • LadySiren

     And like they say down here in Tarheel country, you can’t fix stupid. ;)

  • sirwired

    I was at the grocery store today, and the Western Union display even had “Don’t Get Scammed” brochures, because they know that their service is frequently put to nefarious ends. 

    You’d think just about everybody that uses the internet would have heard the universal refrain by now: “If somebody uses the internet to ask you to wire money, it’s a scam.  Period.”

  • SoBeSparky

    The wire transfer even sounds fishy.  Why wasn’t anything verified?   All the other “no” comments are valid.  This woman wanted a deal too good to be true.  And it was.  Money lost.  Case closed.

  • Chris_In_NC

    Actually, down in eastern NC, the saying is “pigs get fat, but hogs get slaughtered” which sends the same message… don’t get greedy!

  •  Unless the ownerr double dipped and rented the condo twice, what would be the benefit to the owner? 

  • Andrew F

    I voted NO, but here is a thought.  Everybody assumes that the money is gone.  Why?  How hard is it to trace the wire and catch the perpetrator?

  • DavidYoung2

    Totally agree.  It’s like saying, “I decided I didn’t need your service or protections, so I’m going around you to cut out the middleman and your commission.”  

    Then, when everything goes to hell, she asks for their help.  She tried to cheat them !  They told her only they were authorized agents, but she didn’t believe them and got scammed.  She got what she deserved and is due nothing.  In fact, the management company went BEYOND what a reasonable person would do, since she tried to cheat them.  And they still offered at least some type of help.

  • Philippa_FRA

    Something is fishy with the poll.

    Elliott, can you see where all the YES votes are coming from?

  • erikishere

    Hi Chris_In_NC, like your saying too! For other readers out there, “bulls” are those who make their money in an up market, and “bears” are those who somehow actually make their money in a down market. How “bears” make their money in a down market I don’t understand, but they do! Either way the message is the same….don’t get greedy!

  • IGoEverywhere

    These type complaints get boring. They are made by cheapskates that are trying to get less than the lowest cost that they should be able to have. “It’s too good to be true” – wow do I love to see these people taken to the cleaners. Rieben loses big time.

  • Joe

     You have a keychain token, it calls your cell phone automatically to verify you authentication, you enter additional information to validate your IP, you call vrbo support, etc, etc, etc.

  • LeeAnneClark

    That’s immaterial.  The bottom line is that the renter found the listing on VRBO, then violated their policy to attempt to rent directly with the manager.  Once she did that, her transaction was no longer a VRBO transaction, and she forfeits any protections.

  • LeeAnneClark

    No.  That makes no sense at all.  This is a common scam, most of which are perpetrated by scammers in Nigeria or Ghana.  I used to do research into Nigerian scams, and learned to recognize certain language anomalies that indicate where the scammer is from.  This one is clearly from West Africa — this phrase:  “by the meantime” — that’s a classic indicator of a West African scammer.

    She got scammed.  She needs to say goodbye to the money and stop being so gullible.  She’s the reason these scams continue to happen – because they work!

  • LeeAnneClark

    The owner didn’t do the scam.  See my post above:  this was done by a West African scammer.  The language usage contains markers indicating it was someone from Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast – one of the West African countries that are crawling with internet scammers like cockroaches. 

    These scams continue to happen because people are gullible and willing to blind-wire money to strangers.  And the vast majority of the time, the scammed are doing so out of some level of greed (which is what happened here – she found the listing on VRBO, then violated their policy to attempt to get a better deal). 

  • LeeAnneClark

    Okay, who are all these people who supposedly voted YES in this poll?  Christopher, maybe YOU got hacked! ;-)  I don’t see a single person in the comments saying that Rieben deserves anything from VRBO – and yet your poll presently shows that 353 people voted YES, vs 253 who voted NO.  HUH?

    I will echo everyone else in here and point out that Rieben allowed her greed for a better deal to overcome her basic common sense, and she got scammed.  Wave goodbye to the money, honey, because you will not get a penny back.  Some scumbag guyman (what they call themselves) working out of a sweaty, fly-riddled internet cafe in Nigeria is laughing all the way back to his village, where he will be a hero for having ripped off yet another rich maga (what they call their victims).

    For crying out loud, people, STOP BLIND-WIRING MONEY TO STRANGERS!  I used to feel compassion for scam victims, but not so much these days.  It’s just too easy to spot them, and too easy to NOT get scammed.  But greed is a nasty girl, and it strips some people of their common sense.  That’s exactly what happened here.

  • well, ebay does this very thing.  it’s on the website, so it really can’t get hacked easily – as long as ebay has the protections in place.

  • LeeAnneClark

    You are 100% correct.  And to take it a step further, the emails from the scammer contain certain markers that he is from West Africa (Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast).  They have a tendency to mix up English phrases in specific ways, and one VERY common one is “by the meantime” instead of “in the meantime”.  Another is not capitalizing “I”, as you can see throughout his emails.

    This was a Guyman, no doubt.

  • Tanya Bidwell

    If I am understanding this story correctly, she went through VRBO first and was told this was the only way to legitimately book the rental.  However, she took it upon herself to go around them and found the owner’s e-mail address, in order to try and secure a LOWER rental price plus not have commissions to pay.  An e-mail that had been hacked.  Then, she fell for multiple e-mails that had grammatical errors/ typos.  Now she expects VRBO to compensate her because she went around attempting to not use them, but blames them because it was VRBO’s listing?  I feel sorry for her that she was scamme, but I do not feel like it is VRBO’s problem, she did not technically use them (again if I am reading this correctly).  I would not hold a newspaper liable if they put an ad in the paper that was a scam (unknowingly).  You have to take personal responsibility for your actions.  She tried to game the system (as she had every right to do) but she cannot come back now and say, I was burned, you pay up, even though I did not follow the rules and I actually tried to prevent you from earning a deserved commission.  This is one of those very valuable (and for her, costly) life’s lessons that she had to learn the hard way.  Hopefully, she learned a leson.   

  • Kotch11

    Karma deluxe.  Fully agree with some of the comments below.  You try to cheat someone, you get cheated

  • SooZeeQ

    It would be generous if VRBO could give them a week at one of their properties.

    If I were in her shoes I would be hysterical, but I think ultimately, VRBO does not have to do anything for them.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Why would the owner have to scam her when she was willing to rent the place?  I suppose they could have been double-renting the property, but doing that habitually would raise a lot of red flags and probably get the property removed from VRBO which would severely impact the legitimate rental income. It makes much more sense that it was some random scammer who had nothing to lose.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I don’t think you have much to worry about because if you re-read the details you’ll see this scam took place completely outside of VRBO. She paid this scammer directly and ignored the explicit instructions from the real property manager that all rentals needed to go through VRBO. She could have insisted on using PayPal, but undoubtedly the scammer wanted her to pay directly and thinking she was getting a steal, that’s just what she did. She was right about the “steal” part; it just didn’t go the way she anticipated.

  • Joel Wechsler

    You are of course correct that property ownership in Maui is not predicated on English being your native language. However, given the likelihood of non-native speakers being in the minority and the prevalence of internet scams, at the very least the OP should have exercised more caution than she did.

  • RITom

    If she thought she could get around VRBO to avoid a higher fee and that sending a wire is safe then I hope she does not think that doing “it” the first time you will not get pregnant!  Because men don’t lie!

  • Kevin Mathews

    I’m not trying to be mean by my next statement, but is this women completely oblivious to the way the world really works?  Who in their right mind Wires that much money to someone that they don’t even know?
    Almost every reputable company around takes some form of credit card as payment, or at least to secure payment.
    In addition to that, her transaction was not made through VBRO.  Sure, she may have found the listing there, but that doesn’t mean that they owe her anything when she decided to bypass the system and go straight to the seller.
    That would be like someone on E-Bay contacting a seller directly outside the website to set up a deal and then complaining to E-Bay when that person ripped them off. 

    These companies are paid to do a job and with that job comes some amount of risk that they bare the burden on.  With said risk also comes a slightly higher price tag.  Sure you can usually get a better price bypassing the middlemen and going straight to the source.  but you also lose that middle layer of protection as well and that is exactly what happened here.

    Neither the company nor the property owner owe this woman a thing.  She tried to bypass the system set in place and it bit her in the backside.

    I’m not sure why you are torn on this one Chris.  Sure it’s a shame that this woman got scammed.  But that’s a matter for Police, not a Travel Advocate.  Had VBRO scammed her, it would be different, but since she actually went out of her way to NOT be a VBRO customer, I’m impressed that they’ve entertained her complaint this long and not told her to go pound sand…

  • vulturesandhyenas

     The owner could rent the condo through VBRO in a legitimate transaction AFTER the scammer associate took money via the illegitimate transaction.  Note that the victim realized the transaction was fake before showing up at the property. If this worked, the owner would make money from the rental, the owner would get a split from the scammer, the scammer would make money, and the property would be rented one time.  I know that is it sometimes easy to take over an email account. But would not the real owner have noticed this fairly quickly?

    Apparently, this would be a good scam as 2/3 of the responders to my scenario believe it is not likely to happen.

  • LeeAnneClark

    That’s just silly.  The reason 2/3 of the responders think it’s unlikely is because IT DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE. 

    This reflects very badly on the property…any property that has this type of activity in their history is going to be harder to rent.  In today’s world of social media and user-generated review sites (e.g. TripAdvisor, Yelp), why would a property owner want to set themselves up for getting bad reviews?  They want to RENT their property, not steal money from potential renters.  How does that help them?  It doesn’t – it makes it harder for them to rent their property going forward, so they would LOSE money.

    Using a red-herring argument like “this would be a good scam because 2/3 of the responders believe it’s not likely” invalidates your entire premise.  We believe it’s not likely because…um…it’s not likely.  There’s no logic to it.  And lack-of-logic is what led to this lady getting ripped off in the first place!

  • dsliesse

    I voted no for the following reasons, the first three of which have been mentioned by others:

    1.  While it’s reasonable to be skeptical of statements like “this is the only legitimate way to secure the rental,” that is quite likely the case in a condo rental.

    2.  Insistence on wiring money is a dead giveaway of an unscrupulous operator.

    3.  What is VRBO supposed to do to help resolve the problem?  They didn’t receive the money.  By all appearances, the legitimate owner didn’t receive the money.  So where is their liability?

    4.  While I can’t fault the OP’s attempts to find a lower rate, the fact that the “owner” was willing to operate outside what is likely an exclusive contract tells me the “owner” has no business ethics, either, and is not someone I’d want to do business with.

    I do feel for the OP; I’m not completely heartless!  But the only one with any liability is the scammer, and good luck tracking him down!

  • VRBO and HomeAway should start offering insurance.  There must be a policy out there that would protect both the owner & the renter if they got scammed like this…

  • Dave Williams

    I do not think VRBO or the owner has responsibility for this. The criminal (scammer) does. Saying that VRBO is responsible would be like saying a newspaper is responsible for a phony classified ad.

  • Extramail

    My statement was meant as a general statement unrelated to this particular scam. It seems to me that if vrbo wants to continue enjoying a good reputation, it would take steps to rectify such problems with their product. There are plenty of sites that take more precautions than vrbo seems to be doing to protect their customers.

  • gritchie

    Chris, I’m glad you’re not able to help Rieben. She doesn’t deserve it. She tried to save a few bucks by cutting VRBO’s throat. I think it’s wonderful that she got screwed. :-) 

  • That would require the legit transaction and the  scam to be for the same time frame.  Otherwise the owner would just rent the condo to the second person.

    Makes no sense whatsoever.

  • gritchie

    Dave, when you said “The criminal”, I at first assumed you were talking about Rieben. Even if trying to cut VRBO out of the loop wasn’t criminal, it was damned sure immoral. I love that she got burned! 

  • I have a keychain dongle for one of my brokerage accounts.  The online verifies possession of the dongle, the idea being that password plus dongle equals me. Verifying IP only works to the extent that a second passphrase is used. The problem is that most passphrases can be obtained via facebook.

  • I concur.  The speech patten strongly suggests  a West African scammer.

  • If this was done via Western Union, the chances of catching the perpetrator is basically ZERO.  When you send money via Western Union, it goes into the system an can be picked up anywhere in the world where this is a Western Union office.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Pretty hard to protect people who are purposefully trying to operate outside the system. 

  • +1

  • The problem is any insurance policy would undoubtedly require that the OP be a VRBO customer and go through them.  Since the OP chose to bypass VRBO no VRBO insurance policy will cover this scenario

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Every single person scammed would immediately contact VRBO, just like this person did. And as the owner, it’s not exactly easy to hide once the authorities start looking into it.  If there were a million rental sites with similar exposure, this sort of scam could work. But there are only a handful of big ones and several of them are owned by the same company. It’d be “rental suicide” on the owner’s part.

  • gratianus

    VRBO might stand behind rentals made legitimately through its site but I don’t see how it is liable (even morally) for a fraud that used its site. The real problem is that the owner’s email account was hacked and the “renter” fell into the trap. Whether VRBO could have prevented or even detected the fraud is questionable.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    But wouldn’t the world be a lot more interesting if that “logic” actually worked? 95% of people don’t believe the Bellagio could be robbed Oceans 11 style, thus me and my buddies stand an excellent chance of getting rich this coming weekend.  We’ll be the ones in the SWAT uniforms carrying out all the money!

  • Lindabator

    HAHA – only $5000 your majesty?  :)

  • Lindabator

    But in each case, they emailed the owners and WIRED money – since this is not the standard way VRBO does business, it would be the renter’s fault.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Like somebody else said below:  You can’t fix stupid! ;-)

  • LeeAnneClark

    99% of these scams involve wiring money via Western Union or Money Gram.  Thjat means you are anonymously wiring money to strangers.  Anyone can pick it up, provided they have the MTCN number generated by Western Union, and the password that you agree upon with the scammer.  They walk into any WU office in Nigeria, give the MTCN number and the password – they don’t even need ID.  They get the money, and laugh all the way back to the internet cafe, where they sit down and try to scam more gullible people.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    A recent consumer affairs story on a local tv station spotlighted an elderly couple who wired $150,00 in 90+ transactions, all at the same Western Union.  That store TOLD the couple that they were being scammed.  The couple stopped using that Western Union and went elsewhere.  “Pigs get slaughtered, indeed!”

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    @Christopher Elliott:  I’m going to echo @Philippa_FRA:disqus  and @google-cec950b8fdbdf4f9ea6f8f2f171f2d69:disqus here.  I’ve pointed out before that your polls can be gamed – all you have to do is reload the website and you’re good to vote again.  There is no way in the world that “Yes” is the legitimate winning vote, especially when one reviews the comments.

    I’m wondering if there isn’t a connection between the “Yes” vote winning, despite the apparent public sentiment for “No”, and Ms. Rieben’s own end-running of VRBO.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Oh – and I tested the poll again, just to make sure.  That’s 5 “No” votes coming from my IP address.  You can subtract the 4 “Chicago” votes.

  • sirwired

     Given the 100% unanimous “No” comments, I also wonder where all the yes votes are coming from.  I’ve never seen complete unanimity in Chris’s comments section before!

  • TonyA_says

    Post 9/11, this does not make sense.
    I know US law requires the transmitting entity to know thy customer.
    So, having an anonymous RECIPIENT does not make any sense.
    The Feds should clamp down on this practice.

  • TonyA_says


  • LeeAnneClark

    HAHAHA!!!  That’s funny.  I’m picturing Rieben sitting at her computer voting YES over and over. ;-)

    Maybe it’s the Nigerian scammers voting like crazy?

  • AgentSteve

    The only comment I would like to make is that if the above “Scammer” e-mails are verbatim (grammatically and spelling), then to me, that is a huge red flag.  I’m often quite dubious about communications that are less than “professional”.  If one can not write and spell, as simply as this example shows, then  I would certainly question their veracity.

  • andrelot

    After getting more details, the case looks increasingly sketchy to say the best.

    She tried to run around the VRBO protections to get a cut. So she can’t complain of the consequences.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Well, I said this the first time this story ran.  VRBO needs to:

    1.  Ban ANY landlord from asking for wire transfer, under any circumstances.  If the landlord is to cheap to have a merchant account, or some other secure way of accepting payments, they have no business advertising their property.  If renters know landlords are banned from asking for wire transfers, it might cut this scam off at the knees.  And  …

    2.  Add click through pop-ups warning all users that wire transfers are banned and anyone asking for one is a scammer.  Users would have to click thru the pop-up to get to listings.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Make sense or not, that’s how it works.  Walk into any Western Union and ask them.  US law doesn’t do anything about these blind-wires.  If they weren’t allowed, 99% of internet scams would disappear.

    I know whereof I speak. I spent years learning about these types of scams.

  •  I suspect that the OP may be getting all her friends and friends of friends to come to this website and vote yes.

  • The problem is that even if you prevented blind transfers, certain countries tend to have a culture of lawlessness and the criminals would still be able to obtain the funds.

  • scapel

    I think they can try but probably will not be able to help. That money is long gone. Did Rieben try to contact the owner by telephone. If she did then she would have been told that she had to use the management company. If she didn’t get told that, then she should suspect that it is a bogus number probably obtained by scamming e-mailer. People turn their properties over to pros to take of them and pay them to do this and the management company makes money for its efforts. Unless you know an owner personally and they agree to rent you the property, you could probably pay when you get there if you know them real well. I have actuall stayed in a property free of charge because the owner wanted me to. The management company didn’t complain but they did not have it rented at that time either.

  • LeeAnneClark

    And keep in mind that even if the recipient has to provide ID, that STILL wouldn’t help the situation.  Fake IDs in Nigeria are commonplace.  Any scammer can mock one up, tell the victim to wire it to Mr. Robertson, then walk into any Western Union in Lagos with the fake ID of Robert Robertson and the MTCN number, get the cash and disappear into the dust.  Nobody is going to go look for him.  Law enforcement in Nigeria certainly isn’t!  Being a “guyman” (internet scammer) in Nigeria is a respected profession.

  • Chris_In_NC

    @scapel:disqus You are absolutely correct. We have a condo that is rented through a management company. There are actually 4 types of rentals:
    1) Personal – used for by our family
    2) Personal (friend/relative) – no charge rental for use by our friends and family. The cleaning fee is higher than #1
    3) Rental (owner referred) – lower commission rate (for friends who rent our unit but goes through the management company)
    4) Rental (non-referred) – for everyone else. Has the highest commission rate
    An owner “can” bypass the management company, and its allowed in our contract. However, it is intended to be for family and close friends. No way I would trust a stranger that contacts me directly without going through the management company.

  • Chris_In_NC

     @Jeanne_in_NE:disqus Then there are some like me which for unknown reasons the poll never shows up! It only happens on my home computer, but to this date, I have never figured out why!

  • BlondieDC

    Never wire money to someone you don’t know.  Period.

  • Lindabator


  • Tufbroad

    Right on, I agree. I noted No but I don’t usually comment because I read the comments first and more often than not, what I’m thinking has already been said  ~~ many times over.

  • she lost all credibility when she tried to pull a fast one in the management company. Would Elliott intervene if she had purchased a plane ticket from some guy in the street? Come on, she got greedy and her own greed got her scammed. 

  • whatpop

    Sorry, Tania Rieben has “paid the price” for trying to undercut the (legitimate) rental agent…wouldn’t VRBO be just thrilled if she had? Oh, well, nice try!

  • Daves

    “But if it wants to keep its reputation”

    What reputation would that be, much more to keep? You posted a story a few days ago, someone complained at your not helping her, you apologized to that person and explained what happened, yet you still have your hard-earned reputation, right?

    Frankly I’m disappointed that seemingly more users voted yes than no, just as I’m sure some (if not really many) are disappointed that others here won’t agree with them at how arguably wrong VRBO was not to help the OP. But like others here, I’m really skeptical as to the poll’s results since it turns out I can also indeed vote more than once.

    I too don’t know what else VRBO can do for the OP other than what they’ve already done. And yet, they still get dinged for it?

    Of course, you can’t please everyone.

  • drik

    i suggest alwaysonvacation.com as they give best owners…without any middle man

  • KAY

    ok if its a direct deal, dont understand why shd vrbo be involve.

  • Jane

    I think in this case it is buyer beware and verify all info as they tell you to do on VRBO.  I have used them before and they were very responsive when last year I had a problem getting a deposit back from a home I rented in Incline Village.  I did purchase the trip insurance that they offer for a very small fee and it was well worth it. 

    I own a home in Hawaii that I rent on a long term basis and when I placed the add on Craigslist with pictures and the address that was a big mistake as my add was scammed in minutes by someone in Hong Kong.  They even went so far as to take my exact add with pictures and write a big story as to why they left the house and needed to rent it out because they were moving for a new job.  It sounded very legit.  Luckily the person who was asked to wire $4000 overseas did some double checking.  I quickly learned how easy it is to be scammed. They usually play to your greed to find a better deal than the market or going rates and that is the first clue.  If they are legit they will usually not want you to wire all the money up front.   
    I o

  • I also have rented from VRBO and have had nothing but problems. The first place in downtown Wilmington NC was such a filthy dump that I had to get a dog sitter to care for my dog while I searched for another place to stay. Fortunately I was able to stop payment on the check to the owner.  My second experience was better, but still not problem free.  I signed a contract, paid a $800 security deposit and stayed for 4 months. My rent was paid on time and I left the condo in better condition than I found it.  According to the contract my security deposit was to be returned 45 days after my departure. This has not happened. Being true to form, the owner has not returned my phone calls and has not returned my money.  I would seriously recommend that people would not consider VRBO  part of their vacation planning.  

  • I bet all these posted have never even used VRBO… A customer can only get owners information on the property from VRBO.  So that means the Hacker Used VRBO to decieve the customer… This also means this site allows anyone to post their vacation rental as long as they pay the sites fee to do so. they are not vetting who provides information on their properties

  • No she did not try to cheat anyone and was looking for a deal like everyone else does… The site has Hackers on it Decieving customers and most management companies do not even mention they are the only party responcible for the condo.  So you simply get a rate and look at buy owner sites to see if you can get a better rate.  However if their are hackers on the buy owner site i believe there needs to be some type of vetting of people and ownership of the property or the site loses credibility as it does in this case.  I rent from owners all the time using such platforms and i would be horrified to have given my money to a hacker thinking i was talking to the owner using a reputable sites information and they cant help me recieve my money back.

  • You are wrong because you dont understand this is not ebay… VRBO doesnt have transaction at all all it does is supply information… in this case it supplied the hackers information and a property that the the hacker did not own and used this site to maket its deception… VRBO has nothing in place to make sure those who are posting they have condo rentals truely have ownership and management of its properties to use this site… like providing the copy of the deed to post their property availablity and information on this site…

  • csmith

    A: VRBO didn’t get cheated out of anything. There was no end run, vrbo has already been paid by the owner. B: Having said that, vrbo isn’t financially responsible, but they are ethically responsible to secure the e-mail system they provide to do business. Knowing they have this weakness, a good, responsible business site would protect it’s customers and it’s own credibility. Failure to do so renders them a “fly by night status”, and should carry a “buyer beware flag” on their site.

  • thomas lash

    Buy my travel insurance lash-travel.webs.com we can solve all of these issues and more

  • Bob’s Chicago Vacation Rental

    We own a vacation rental and have 2 listings on VRBO and their parent site, Home Away. Both the renter and the owners made mistakes here. The renter wired money carelessly (possibly by Western Union or a similar service which should’ve been a HUGE red flag) and the owner at some point let their guard down and had their email hacked by a scammer, probably by clicking on a link they shouldn’t have.

    VRBO is no different than a newspaper than sells classified ads. They are not a party to any transaction and have no liability. If you saw a car for sale in your local paper and went to look at it and got robbed of your cash, would you then blame the newspaper? This is what happened here.

    Because their site is being blamed for the actions of careless owners and renters, VRBO/Home Away is developing a system where all communications must go through their site. It will probably be a pain in the butt for both renters and owners and as someone else in these comments noted, moving the communications between renters and owners to their site won’t safeguard anyone unless they use sms or ISP verification or a similar system.

    Personally, we only take payments by credit cards or Paypal. We like that our guests know that they are protected from a scam or misrepresentation by having a grievance process and it simplifies our bookkeeping. This also eliminates any scam artists trying to pass bad checks on us which
    used to happen all the time. The scam artists and their identical bad
    English and language is obvious once you’ve seen it a few times. That
    doesn’t always help a renter who isn’t being careful. We know that many other owners don’t want to pay the fees on credit cards and have done business by check or bank wire (especially common in other parts of the world) for years. That is a personal decision on an owner’s part, but I personally wouldn’t pay for a rental any other way unless I personally knew the person. Years of positive guest comments/reviews might change my mind, but there is no grievance process with other forms of payment. Bob

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