Please stop wiring money to strangers!

Repeat: Please stop wiring money to strangers!

Too bad that Heidi Barker of Watertown, Conn. didn’t see this warning before she wired money for a vacation rental. She was planning a Caribbean vacation in St. Maarten. Using VRBO, she found a beachfront, ground floor, two-bedroom condo. The listing was legitimate. But the person she communicated with via email was not the owner.

We regularly get requests for help from folks who have been victimized by a scam that involves wiring money to someone they don’t know. Most often, the scam involves a vacation rental with the scammer impersonating the owner.

Articles on this problem have appeared on our site many times. The most recent was on Feb. 9, 2017, and it had links to several prior ones about people who lost money the same way. To quote from the Feb. 9 article, “Never, ever wire money for a vacation rental.”

Barker describes what happened. “Someone had intercepted the owner’s emails and had been impersonating him the entire time since my first inquiry of the property. I wired the person/scammer, who I believed to be the owner, money via instructions that were sent to me through what I believed to be the VRBO website.”

She says the emails looked like they came from VRBO with copies of the company logo and security wording from its website.

At the supposed owner’s request, she wired $3,270. The scammer further asked that the funds be wired not to St. Maarten, but to a bank in Germany.

If someone asks you to wire money to them for a vacation rental, your alarm bells should go off. If they ask you to wire the funds to a bank in a third country, those bells should be clanging loudly. This warning comes too late for Barker. She’s out the money she wired the scammer.

Never, ever, wire money for a vacation rental. We’re not the only ones who say that. The VRBO site warns users too:

Avoid the following practices

  • Sending cash is not recommended, but paying in cash in person to owner or manager upon arrival can be okay.
  • Sending a check made out to cash.
  • Using an instant money transfer such as Western Union or Money Gram.

These payment methods are preferred by criminals and using them voids any guarantees from us.

She communicated with the scammer by email. She should have phoned using the number associated with the listing to confirm her reservation before sending any money. But it was already too late, and the money was gone when she finally called. The phone number reached the real owner who knew nothing about her, the reservation or the transaction. The owner did tell her that someone had tried to hack his account.

She took up the problem with VRBO (which is part of HomeAway) hoping to invoke its “Book with Confidence” guarantee. It claims to protect, “100% of your payment against things like listing fraud, phishing, property significantly misrepresented, wrongful denial of entry, or uninhabitable property upon arrival.”

But there is a condition attached. As the site says, “You must complete your booking or payment through the HomeAway checkout process in order to be protected by our Book with Confidence Guarantee. We can’t protect payments that are completed outside of HomeAway.”

By wiring the money directly to the supposed owner, Barker went outside the company’s checkout process. All the company could do was point her to their advice for how to rent securely. Some of those pointers can be foundhere.

If she had booked the rental using the VRBO website booking process, she might have been protected. Unfortunately, she didn’t and the company’s position on this is firm.

Barker finally wrote to us for help. But there is nothing we can do except publish this as yet another warning not only for you but also for your friends. This is one of those times when you really should send others a link to this story. Who knows? You might just help one of them avoid losing a lot of money.

And now, repeat after me: Never wire money for a vacation rental.

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