Pay for your vacation rental with a wire transfer? Yes, but not this way

Wire transfer scam

You’ve found the perfect vacation rental. The owner asks you to pay via wire transfer. Should you do it? Meir Hurwitz, of Brooklyn, N.Y., did, and now he’s out nearly $17,000.

He’s not the first to be taken in by a vacation rental fraud and likely won’t be the last. Over the years this site has carried many stories warning about vacation rental scams. Many of those involved wire transfers.

Vacation rental scammers lover wire transfers!

Last year I wrote about a woman who lost more than $3,000 to a vacation rental scammer in a case very similar to this one.

My advice has always been that you should not use a wire transfer to pay for a vacation rental. There is a way to do so safely. It’s just not the way Hurwitz did it.
He found what seemed like a great Canadian vacation rental on VRBO (which is part of HomeAway). He emailed the listing contact and agreed on a rate. Then he received an emailed invoice that he thought was from HomeAway.

A wire transfer to Poland?

It instructed him to wire the payment to a bank in Poland.

He says there was something about the invoice that didn’t seem right. “It was strange that the invoice said the money should be wired to Poland, so I called HomeAway and they verified that this listing was accurate. I then wired $17,896. Around six days later HomeAway informed me that there was fraud on this account.”

Hurwitz contacted his bank to try to halt the wire transfer or to retrieve the funds. But it was too late. The money was gone.

Hurwitz was tricked by an emailed invoice that, he says, looked like one from the company. His instinct was right to contact the company to be sure the listing was real. But he didn’t go far enough. He didn’t ask if the invoice was legit. What’s worse is that he didn’t use HomeAway’s checkout process to make the wire transfer. If he had used the company’s platform to handle the transaction, he might have been protected.

Book with Confidence Guarantee

The company has what it calls a “Book with Confidence Guarantee.” It promises to protect renters from fraud. But there is an important condition. According to the company website, “Only bookings made through the HomeAway checkout and paid for using a registered payment method are eligible for coverage by the Book with Confidence Guarantee.”

The company now allows property owners to designate payment by wire transfer. However, the company says, “If an alternate method of payment is used, you would receive detailed payment instructions from the owner or property manager for your reservation on HomeAway’s website.”

Since he had seen the rental on the VRBO website and confirmed that it was an accurate listing, Hurwitz felt the company should reimburse his loss. However, since he had not made the payment through HomeAway’s platform, the company declined. Instead, it agreed only to reimburse him $1,000 under its Basic Rental Guarantee, which is designed to offer some limited protection from fraudulent listings.

There’s nothing we can do to help him recover the rest of his money. But we can use this as another reminder that you need to stay alert to protect yourself from vacation rental scams.
In the article I wrote last year on a similar scam, I said you should never pay for a vacation rental by wire transfer. I still think that’s a sound policy. If someone asks you to wire money to them for a vacation rental, you should be very suspicious. If they ask you to make a wire transfer to a bank in a third country, that should set off alarm bells in your head.

Wire transfers must be made through the HomeAway site

At the time that article was published, HomeAway didn’t have a secure system for wire transfer payments. Now they allow it through their portal. But you may have better safeguards with other payment options. If you learn, as Hurwitz did, that a listing is fraudulent, you might be able to stop payment on a check or try for a credit card chargeback. But once funds have been wired, they are gone.
Regardless of which payment method you use, if you plan to book a vacation rental through one of HomeAway’s affiliated companies, then be sure to use their checkout system to make the payment.

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