No sense of ownership in home rental phishing scams

The rental villa on the French Riviera that Sonia Guillaume found online looked picture-perfect. It featured an impeccably manicured garden, spacious living areas, a pool and stunning views of the medieval village of St. Paul de Vence.

And there was the price: 10 percent off the weekly 1,700-euro rate in August, a time when pretty much all of France is on vacation.

You know what happened next, right? Guillaume says she contacted the owner through the Web site, which is owned by the U.S. vacation rental listing site HomeAway, and wired him the money. Then she discovered that she wasn’t dealing with the real owner, but with someone who had fraudulently obtained the owner’s e-mail password, a crime known as phishing.

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“It was a scam,” says Guillaume, a subcontracting manager who lives in Poissy, a suburb of Paris.

I’ve been following similar incidents since the fall. In a report that I wrote in January, HomeAway promised to crack down on phishing and to work with victims to save their vacations. But since then, more defrauded renters and homeowners with listings on HomeAway have come forward to tell their stories.

Rental owners complain that they’re being unfairly blamed for the phishing. And customers allege that the company’s attitude is dismissive, that it’s showing little interest in rescuing their ruined vacations or bringing the scammers to justice.

HomeAway, which also operates and has a commanding share of the vacation rental market, says that nothing could be further from the truth: It hasn’t been contacted by any law enforcement officials about a phishing case, but if it were, it would fully cooperate with any investigation. The company has added phishing warnings to its sites and recently posted a job notice for a director of global fraud prevention to help manage its efforts to “detect, prevent and mitigate fraud and other undesirable events.”

And it says that of the 13 phishing cases I’ve brought to its attention since November, seven have been “resolved,” although it declines to name them or discuss how the problems were fixed, citing its privacy policy.

I tried to reach the victims. One of the customers, Guillaume, says that no one from HomeAway has contacted her with a resolution. (I brought her case to HomeAway’s attention March 16, and the company says that it has tried to reach her but that she hasn’t responded.)

Another would-be renter, Tania Rieben, says that the company hasn’t helped her, either. HomeAway says that the property manager has offered her a resolution that she hasn’t accepted.

Kathryn Bowden, an artist in Sorrento, Fla., who says she lost $3,800 on a vacation rental in Kissimmee, Fla., that HomeAway listed, told me a story that matched many details of Guillaume’s case, including the location of the fake homeowner, the size of the discount and the way the scam was perpetrated. I contacted HomeAway on her behalf in mid-February.

“The only thing I have heard from HomeAway is that they expect the owner of the property we tried to rent from to resolve any issue,” she says. “It makes it sound as though they feel the owner is somehow to blame and must make restitution. That’s their choice of words, not mine.”

Bowden says that she and a group of other unhappy customers plan to file a class-action lawsuit against HomeAway.

Some HomeAway customers didn’t respond to my inquiry because they’d been required to sign nondisclosure contracts as part of their settlement with the company.

But one customer who was privy to the details of a HomeAway settlement agreed to tell me her story. Alisa Golson, a former human resources consultant and a stay-at-home mom in San Francisco, contacted me in December after her mother-in-law wired $7,300 to a scammer for a rental property in Capistrano Beach, Calif., that she’d found through VRBO. She says that the company has urged the homeowner to settle with her family, but that he has refused. HomeAway insisted that it wasn’t to blame, either.

“They appeared to do little or no investigation into what happened,” she says. “They took a very strong stance that they were not responsible.”

So her mother-in-law hired an attorney, who contacted HomeAway. The company eventually agreed to cover the $7,300 she lost in the scam, Golson says.

Carl Shepherd, HomeAway’s co-founder, says that his company doesn’t take the phishing attacks lightly and cares about the outcome of every case. “We are taking this seriously,” he says. “We launched a significant education effort to travelers and our owners. We’re working with other people in the industry, and we’ve had two summit conversations with them to collectively combat phishing. Also, we’re developing some product changes that we hope to announce soon.”

He added that even though HomeAway has “no legal responsibility” for phishing, “we work diligently with both the owner and the traveler to find an appropriate solution, and when all parties are looking for something equitable, they usually work something out.”

Christine Karpinski, a former HomeAway employee and author of the book “How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner,” says that the company’s problems aren’t unique and that its actions — and those of other home rental sites that have responded to the phishing problem — are a promising start.

“Vacation rental sites need to plaster their pages with warnings to never pay by wire transfer,” she says. As of now, you have to do some “hard-core digging” to find any alerts about possible fraud on any rental site, she adds. As a vacation rental owner herself, she understands the reason: Prominent warnings would frighten customers away.

Shepherd disagrees, insisting that his company is now offering ample warnings. They include a series of direct e-mails that were sent to both travelers and rental owners after the scams were discovered last year and a new security center on its Web site with advice on how to avoid phishing.

Some of the most revealing conversations I’ve had about this problem have been private. Because of HomeAway’s dominant market share, and because of confidentiality agreements signed by customers, vacation rental owners who are affected by phishing are hesitant to speak out about their experiences.

Rental owners say that they are not responsible for the phishing and that they shouldn’t be on the hook for the damages. But they also say that because HomeAway is the world’s largest online marketplace for the vacation rental industry, it can dictate the terms of compensation and compel them to quietly accept them.

One rental management company representative told me that her company spent thousands of dollars compensating customers who lost $2,000 to $2,500 apiece in five separate phishing incidents last November. It had no choice: More than half of its business comes from HomeAway, which was threatening to pull the management company’s listings if it didn’t compensate the defrauded customers.

HomeAway says it wasn’t involved in any settlement matching that description and that at any rate, the rental management company’s interpretation of its view is distorted.

“We always state that there are two victims: the owner or property manager and the traveler,” Shepherd says. “We work to resolve the situation in a way that is satisfactory to both.”

Some owners I spoke with said that the question of liability needs to be addressed by a court, a notion that appears to be gaining traction, according to Karpinski and some of the victims.

Shepherd predicts that HomeAway would win such a case.

“It is our judgment — from our legal position, from our attorneys — that we have no legal liability,” he told me. “We have a marketplace. We are not a party to the transaction.”

Customers such as Guillaume see things differently. Because HomeAway bills itself as a trusted intermediary between her and her vacation rental, she says, it owes her more than an empty apology. She says that after she lost her money, HomeAway officials told her that they were sorry but that it wasn’t their problem. The rental owner isn’t willing to help her, either.

And after losing six months of savings to an unseen criminal, Guillaume says, she doesn’t know where to turn.

“They’ve violated my trust,” she says.

(Photo: Britrob/Flickr)

88 thoughts on “No sense of ownership in home rental phishing scams

  1. I feel bad for the people who lost money, but 2 minutes into the website makes it clear that you are to call the owner on the number listed on the website. Not e-mail, not text, but call.  That should ensure that you are really speaking to the owner.  Other forms of electronic communications are easily spoofed.  Even the number of the origination caller can be spoofed with ease. However, it is nearly impossible to remotely hijack a phone number.

    The reality is that a few simple precautions and personal responsibility by the renters would nearly eliminate this type of fraud.

    1.  Call the owner on the number listed on the website
    2.  Decline wiring money, especially through Western Union.  There are any number of secure mean such as PayPal.
    3.  Don’t be greedy.  If its too good to be true…PASS!

    1. Actually, they are hijacking phone numbers these days. I don’t want to post details on how it’s been done, but yes, that is a problem.

        1. Ehh…there are certain devices I will not name that will allow one to spoof/hack a landline phone. They used to be out of reach for John Q. Public, but unfortunately the internet has opened up a nice little black market for them.

          1. I”m confused.  Are you talking about spoofing or hacking.  Spoofing is simple but wouldn’t help the scammers.  Hacking would be that someone is able to reroute your incoming telephone calls without your knowledge.  Are there devices to do that on landlines?

            Editted: I did a google search. I couldn’t find anything to suggest that hacking a landline was anything other than a huge PITA and way outside of the skills of the average internet scammer.

          2. Hacking a landline: Out of the skills of your typical internet scammer, probably. However, it is possible and does occur. In fact, one of my recent jobs involved breaking a ring of these clowns in Montreal.

            I have knowledge of this and how it works, but I’d rather not post it lest it fall into the wrong hands.

    2. I also just looked at the site, and I did not see a single warning of scams, and there is a box to the side of the pictured rental inviting you to email the owner with your details.  I think the site could do a MUCH better job of informing people of the problems, and providing information to keep communications safer.
      If you actually go looking for security info, it is there, but you need to scroll all the way to the bottom of a long page, and specifically look for it.  They should do something like craigslist, where it warns you on every page.

        1.  Yes, “in that section”, but it is entirely possible to search for a rental, find one, and conduct an entire transaction through the site without ever encountering a warning.  Most people are trusting, and will not purposefully search out info on scams while at a web site.  So this website could certainly post warnings more obviously, particularly if they know they have a problem.  Please note I am not saying the owner being hacked is all their responsibility, simply that if they have a known problem, they do not seem to have taken even rudimentary steps to alert customers of the possibility.
          And to those people who say “everyone should know not to wire money”- many people are not as experienced in traveling, or have not encountered scammers before, and truly do not know. That is why sites like craigslist have notices at the top of EVERY page.  This site should consider doing the same thing.

    3. If they have spoofed the owners email address wouldn’t they just obtain their account password from homeaway (assuming that wasn’t the first step) and log into the owners site and change the phone number?  Perhaps homeaway is more secure here but I’ve never seen a website require much more than the registered email address access to update account information.

  2. Hard to believe that so many people think HomeAway should pay for incidents like this.  Seriously?  That’s like saying Craigslist should pay for any transaction gone bad between two parties. 

    Maybe if the transaction happened on HomeAway’s site, and HomeAway didn’t due due diligence to make the site as safe as possible (password enforcement, https across all pages, etc.) then they could conceivably play some role in it. 

    But it doesn’t.  This transaction is between two people through email.  It would make more sense to pressure email providers to pay for transactions gone wrong, and that makes very little sense; I think everyone would agree.

    It seems like HomeAway is going to the bounds of what they can do and warning people not to be stupid with the way they handle transactions.

    If consumer advocates want HomeAway to “plaster” the site with advice to not pay by wire transfer, then consumers have the responsibility to *not pay by wire transfer*!

    1. I hold the scammers and the shoppers responsible. However, I think HomeAway paying shut up money is pretty skeevy.

  3. If the rental company has the owner’s number one should call it and talk to the owner and confirm that they are using Homeaway as their agent. Then book with Homeaway by telephone.
    I do not like to  use and other booking agencies if I can talk to the hotel itself. At least I am assured of gettng what I am paying for.
    With the vacation rental properties, on should not be able to deal directly with the owner if the property is listed with a company like homeaway. I like payment by cc over the phone better than online.

  4. Dear Sir,
    My beautiful vacation property for rental in Hawaii will be yours. Due to circumstances I will sacrifice and offer the rental for $500 a week 21 DEC to 15 JAN. Please wire immediately to  XXXX

    1. Do you see the screwy English? 
    2. Does it sound too good to be true?
    3. Does it ask for money to be wired?

    If any of these are true, RUN AWAY.

    But, if do you fall for that, please send me $10,000 as I am a Nigerian Prince trying to get my fortune out of the country and need to pay taxes…

    That said, I really don’t like companies that force people to sign shut up papers. If you had a bad experience, you should be able to talk about it. Period.

  5. Use a reputable travel agent who uses verified and reputable tour operators.  The problem is that people are so sucked in for a few dollar discount and would easily give their money over to someone they have not checked out.  Use a reputable travel agent – price is what you pay and value is what you get.

    1. You’re SO right, Pat.  Using a travel agent would avoid a great deal of the messes some travelers get themselves into.

      Travel agents work on commission, thus, unless they charge a processing fee of some sort, the cost to the traveler is no higher than if they booked themselves.  And travel agents can sometimes find lower fares than are available online.

      1. That’s correct – our commission is paid by the tour operator or cruise line – NOT the consumer.  Some agents do charge a fee for complicated bookings but if you read this article you can figure out why they might charge a fee – to keep the consumer from having this happen to them.  But when they only see $$ signs these things will happen.  They need to see the value in our services.

      2. How would a travel agent help in this case?

        The guest would have to pay a commission because many owners won’t have relationships that permit the travel agent to collect a commission for booking the vacation rental

        Then this isn’t booked through GDS, so that layer of protection is gone.

        Basically, as Leeanne says, don’t wire money, chances of being scammed is so remote it doesn’t justify any further expense.

        1. Carver, for room accommodations, there’s an 800 lb. gorilla out there. Not a GDS but the GDS companies have to rely on it – Pegasus Systems.

          Currently, I am already seeing some wholesaler’s literature telling us (TAs) that they are including apartment rentals. I have NOT yet bothered to check it out. But, IMO, the fact that these apartments will be found through a GDS will most probably mean that they (the apartments) will have to be legal and pay the correct taxes. Furthermore, the money will exchange hands more cleanly.

          1.  It makes sense.  My question would be, are the apartments more expensive on this system than others?  But in any event, if you don’t wire money, you’ve pretty much insulated yourself from this particular scam.

          2.  A little bit. The Foreign Credit Card Merchant Fee is about 3.75%. The apartment has to pay this. But as you know, in Europe, many owners are not used to paying out this kind of amount to anyone just to get paid.

        2. But as an agent that sells rentals, I can assure you there are reputable companies WE do business with who can get you good rates and no risk as in these cases – you pay by credit card, and they pay a commission, or we charge a booking fee in the few cases they do not pay us.

    2.  Most people don’t associate short-term home rental with travel agents, because I suspect most travel agents don’t or won’t deal with them.  For whatever reason, the customers are looking to stay in a home rather than a hotel, and the only place I’ve found for this sort of info is HomeAway or VRBO, which is the same thing.

      1. Exactly! What can a travel agent do with short-term home rentals? I have seen some WHOLESALE hotel aggregators say they will list apartments but I am not sure if travel agents will risk giving those to their clients. For one thing, I won’t sell them.

      2. I work with a local company for weekend home rentals on the coast.  I have also worked with companies for weekend getaways to Tahoe.  We can and do handle these. 

        1. Bodega, that’s because you are local there and perhaps know the the people running the joint. But how about an apartment in Paris? All the TA will get is a listing from an unknown source.

          1. I don’t know the owners of the rental company.  The point is many of us do handle these type of reservations.  There are a lot of good companies that agents have access to.

          2. In our area, vacation rentals are starting to be regulated.  Especially in the rural areas.  On the coast, I use a rental company or a realty company and they collect all bed taxes.  Same with other vacation spots I book.  I was just informed that Maui is going to require ALL vacation rentals to be place through a rental company, no more rentals by private owners due to the circumventing of taxes.  Online advertising will be monitored I am sure.

          3. Actually, there are several reputable companies selling to travel agents, and it gives ALL the skinny necessary to book with confidence and ease.  Have used them in the past with great success, and am looking into a couple for later this year as well.

    3. What many consumers don’t realize is that many states have seller of travel laws that could protect them.  I am in CA and we have a fabulous consumer protection law for travel issues. 

      1. The SCOPE of the California Seller of Travel Law requires that TRANSPORTATION is included in the offer.
        That said, merely hawking apartments or rooms to Californians are not protected by the CA SOT law. These companies don’t even have to register with CA (provided no transportation is involved).

        1. In 1995, the California legislature enacted the Seller of Travel Law, creating the Travel Consumer Restitution Fund for the benefit of consumers located in California who suffer losses as a result of the bankruptcy, cessation of operations, insolvency, or material failure of a seller of travel to provide the transportation or travel services contracted for.

          1. Yes, a company just selling accommodations does not have to register, but they can.  I try and only work with those that are registered or provide my clients with the what if’s.  As an agent, it is our responsibility to vet all vendors we work with.   The Seller of Law is a consumer protection law but not one many know about. 

          2. He is registered as I have checked.  BUT you bring up something that seems to be overlooked, and that is all CST numbers are to be on any advertising, websites included.  It should be on the first page, but lately I am seeing many companies, that are registered not displaying it anywhere. 

  6. No international travel payment to anyone should be by wire transfer.  That is the same as giving someone cash with no enforceable contract requiring provision of goods and/or services according to U.S. law.  In other words, you are much better off putting that wire transfer cash in a Salvation Army kettle at Christmas.  

    Many times foreign hotels, tour companies and independent guides require wire transfer to secure a reservation.  After you part with your cash, do you want to go to that country, speak their language and fight their courts to get your cash back?

    Most times you can make a deposit by credit card and then pay in cash or by card when you arrive.  Use of a credit card provides some protection against fraud and failure to perform.  You can at least challenge them under U.S. law, rather than French or Chinese.

  7. While “due diligence” is required by all purchasers, the onus really should be on the Web Site to vet all listings. Additionally, insurance should be mandatory (as it is with Travel Agents) to protect consumers.

    1. I don’t think it’s the listings that are scams; it’s the fact that the third-party email accounts of legitimate listings are being hijacked.

    2. Clearly you do not understand how the scam takes place.  The listings themselves are fine.  The money is stolen when scammers, usually located in West Africa, manage to hack into a rental owner’s email address or property listing, and then tell all the customers who contact them about their rental to wire the money.  The money then gets picked up by the scammer using a fake ID, and the scammer then disappears into the wind (or, more likely, back to his dusty village outside of Lagos, Nigeria).

      The property owners do not perpetrate the scam.  They do play a role here, though:  they do not adequately protect their email boxes or property listings by using easily-guessable passwords, or falling for password phishing schemes.

      But the lion’s share of blame here (other than the scammer himself, obviously) falls on the moronic renters who blind-wire money into the cosmos.  HELLO!  What planet are these people living on???  Anybody who does business on the internet should be well aware by now to NEVER WIRE TRANSFER MONEY TO STRANGERS.  Period.  End of story.

      Why don’t they just hire a helicopter to fly over Lagos and drop cash?  Same thing!

  8. After reading this article,    I am surprised to see many short term rentals still listed in Home Away’s NYC page

    That, to me, is a sign that Home Away is not that serious about keeping illegality away from its website. What will prevent an unscrupulous home owner or property manager to pull a fast one and blame it on phishing? How does one really know that phishing was involved?

    1.  It is of course possible, but I doubt if this type of scamming by the owner is prevalent at all.  If you own property, the amount of money from scamming, i.e. complete nonperformance is pennies.

      Consider, if someone books your property, what is your incentive not to let them stay there unless its already booked.  All you save is perhaps the cleaning cost, wear and tear?  Hardly enough money to justify the amount of grief you’ll receive.

      And of course, it only works if you require that the potential guest wires the money.  But then, you’ll scare off too much potential business (me, Leeanne, any reader of this site, etc.). If they use credit cards, PayPal, etc. you’ll lose the money to a charge-back.

      More likely an unscrupulous owner will present the property in a fraudulently favorable light, e.g. don’t make repairs, skimp on the upkeep, etc.  so that guests will be induced to pay a higher price than the property should command.

      That makes charge-backs and disputes infinitely more difficult.

        1. Several reasons

          In the post that you sent, it wasn’t the owner that perpetrated the scam, but rather someone who pretended to the owner (or the rep, I forget).

          I’m not suggesting that first parties don’t scam.  What I am saying is that some people have opined that the owner of the proper was really the scam artist.  In any transaction, real or fraudulent, you can follow the money and unravel it.  In this case, the owner has the least incentive to perform this type of scam. There is no financial incentives absent the owner double booking.   However, anyone can be a scammer.  I point out that if the owner is a scammer he or she would perpetrate a different type of scam.

          1.  For that, and other, reasons; the “industry” is really heavily reliant on an HONEST BROKER between the guest and the hotel/apartment. Mere listing agents do not fulfill that role. They really do not protect the buyer from fraud.


    In your poll, the fourth, and my favorite answer might be that they should all share in the losses due to Phishing Scams.

  10. I almost fell prey to one of these scams.  But something didn’t feel right and the more checking I did, the more inconsistencies I found.  

    The rental owner too often says “wasn’t my fault” but I don’t think that’s true.  In my case, the rental owner hadn’t bothered to check their own listing.  Somehow, through neglect, ignorance, or naivete, they allowed someone else to get access to their HomeAway listing, changing most of the contact information and the photos.  

    If you’re not willing to choose a decent password and check your listing every once in a while, how can you claim to be not at fault?

    1. While I agree that it is incumbent on property owners to use appropriate passwords and not fall for phishing schemes, in the end the person sending the money to the scammer is the one at fault. 

      Simple, undeniable truth:  any property owner asking you to wire-transfer money is a scammer.  DON’T WIRE TRANSFER MONEY to strangers. 

      Follow that one rule, and you will never get scammed.

  11. Carver, what’s stopping a crook from stealing home pics in other sites and posting them as if it was his home? Is this phishing? Or simply a fake listing trying to scam people. How can one really know if the ad or listing they are looking at is legit?  The crook can even publish his prepaid cellphone # in the ad. You can go ahead and call the crook and then what?

    1. Simple solution #1:  Don’t wire transfer money.  If the property owner asks you to wire transfer money, it’s a scam.  Simple as that.  A scammer will not have a secure means of payment – they will need to you to wire transfer the money.  They won’t be able to get money from you using a credit card (they won’t have a merchant account).  Nor will they be able to use PayPal (they have to have a valid PayPal account with a valid bank account to get money from you that way).  The only way scammers can get money from you is through wire transfer (Western Union, MoneyGram).  DON’T WIRE TRANSFER MONEY.  Period.

      Simple solution #2:  The vast majority of scammers are located in Nigeria, Ghana, Benin or Ivory Coast.  Calling the property owner directly will flush them out:  a West African will sound like a West African.  Don’t do business with someone who says they are renting a property in Maui, but sounds like they are from West Africa.

      Anybody doing business on the internet needs to know these basic rules.  It is incumbent on the customer to not throw their money away on scammers.  Caveat Emptor.

      1. We should not lose sight of the fact that cyber-crime and cyber-hustlers are ubiquitous.  They are found in all countries, come in every colour, and are from every ethnic and linguistic background you can name.  Stereotyping could prevent us from spotting a cyber-criminal who does not conform to the expected profile.  Three informative articles that will help us to protect ourselves and assist us in recovering from criminal attacks are as follows:  and
        The following article that appeared in today’s Toronto Star makes some suggestions as to how international cooperation in law-making could help to deter or apprehend cyber-criminals. –bring-law-and-order-to-the-digital-wild-west
        However, if someone is imprudent enough as to wire money to an unknown individual, especially one located in a foreign country, chances are the money is gone for good. 

    2. Lets be careful.  We are mixing two completely different issues.  The scenario that you describe is a very different prospect that the one that Chris has been writing about.

      In the current case, the website is legit and had the guest exercised better judgment and sophistication she would never have been scammed.

      The situation you describe is fundamentaly different as the listing itself is fraudulent.  A completely different analysis must be provided.  For example, you cannot possible hold the home owner responsible, morally, legally, or ethically.

      The question then becomes which venue was the listing posted.  I would expect HomeAway and the like to vet this listings.  That’s how I know the listing is real.  If a fake listing makes it into the site, they are responsible, otherwise what the difference between them and Craigslist.

      If however, the fake listing is posted in a general forum like Craigslist, then it really is buyer beware as no one reasonable believes that Craigslist vets ads any more than the local throwaway weekly newspaper.

      But even then, don’t wire money.  Problem solved.  I can’t say it any simpler than that.

      1. Why Carver, does HomeAway or VRBO vet their listings? If so how? If people believe [maybe erroneously] that listings there are 100% legit, then they will have a false sense of security, loosen their guard, and perhaps wire money. That said, there is no guarantee that the listing is not from a scammer.

        1.  Of course, I don’t know Homeaway’s internal procedures.   But off the top of my head I can think of two methods. 

          I suspect that it costs money to participate in the listing.  The simplest vetting would be to require all payment be made via credit card.  That would scare away many scammers.  Another would be to send a confirming snail mail to the address of the vacation rental both when the rental is initially placed and if any changes are made. Both means are fairly simple and cheap.

          But regardless.  Under no circumstances should you ever, ever wire money.  At some point, the traveler has to take personal responsibility for stupid choices.  Wiring money to a stranger counts as a stupid choice. I cannot say it clearly or simply enough.

  12. Chris Elliott, if you do a little research, you will quickly find out that many, most, if not all, short-term apartment or home rentals in New York, San Francisco, Paris and other cities are illegal. Many cities require registration of short-term rentals since they are classified as hotels and must pay the correct taxes.

    That said, if people are renting illegal units then how do they expect the rest of their transactions to be in the up and up?

    1. That’s a whole new twist on this story. Thank you for pointing that out. I wonder if authorities in these cities plan to charge either the homeowners or the sites on which they advertise with breaking the law.

      1. All I am saying is that if someone [knowingly] rents an illegal apartment then it’s their fault if they get screwed.

        1. I just changed my mind on my first vote as I voted that the renter needs to take the responsibility.  However, after giving thought to our other posts you and I have been having today,  it seems to me that a company like VRBO should be required to know the laws of the area of any rental they allow to be posted and require this in the rental information to be posted.  They are providing the site and getting a cut, they should make sure all rentals on their site are on the up and up.

  13. A great piece of investigative work, Chris!  Thank you.

    Okay, so what can we take away from all this? 
    (a) HomeAway lies, lies, and lies again. 
    (b) Suing HomeAway works.

    The bottom line?  Lawyer up, all you victims out there!  It’s clear from this piece that HomeAway will have to have its feet held to the legal fire before proper safeguards are put in place, appropriate changes are made, and oh yes, victims are justly compensated. 

  14. There have to be ways in which a person such as Sonia Guillaume who lives near Paris can avoid being scammed over a property located not a continent away, but in the same country!  Unfortunately, she used information available through the HomeAway site and for another, she wired her payment to someone she didn’t know.  It is obvious to me that unless and until HomeAway and other such sites are able to provide better security, their use should be avoided at all costs.
    Suggestions that would help to circumvent the use of HomeAway and other similar sites even though they may cause some inconvenience, that would be preferable to losing thousands of $$:
    *Ask friends who live in or have stayed in the preferred area for recommendations and details about suitable properties.

    *Book into a hotel in the preferred area (B&Bs, Ys, university dorms, etc. could be cheaper alternatives) for a few nights and use the daytime to seek and find suitable properties.

    *Use the listings available on the local tourist board Web site where descriptions of properties are usually given.  The TB should be able to verify for you the name and telephone number of the owner.

    Once possible accommodation is identified:

    *make contact with the owner by telephone and in the conversation throw in one or more random pertinent questions about the place or country (e.g. on the history, geography, politics) that a genuine resident would be expected to know.  This will not prevent you from being scammed, but an incorrect answer could be an alert to the possibility.

    *Try to get the owner to accept a down-payment by credit card with the balance to be paid on arrival.  If this is not acceptable, use a credit card or a service such as PayPal to make the payment.  (I use PayPal for my online purchases in Can. and the U.S.  In four years I have not had a problem even with a subscription that is renewed automatically every six months.)

    *If the owner asks for money to be wired, there should be no further doubt that you are being SCAMMED.  Run, don’t walk from the transaction. 

  15. You all give good advice – Don’t Wire Money Ever.
    But consider the listings of HomeAway for Paris 1st Arrondissement (near the Louvre)

    Out of 123 properties, only 1 accepts Online Payments.
    Looks like y’alls advice and those who rent out places in this Paris district are not that compatible.

    If I had only one small apartment to rent out, should I get a merchant account with a credit card company? Should I get a paypal account and get charge at least 3% for every transaction? That’s the big problem. Owners don’t want to pay those fees. They also don’t want to deal with chargebacks.

      1. I think that is what they mean by “accepting payments online”. In their forum, I read that they are now forcing owners to accept e-checks (ACH) and they are offering it without a fee. Paypal should be the next obvious step. But HomeAway is partly owned by Google [Ventures]. So I don’t think they will be fast to join the Paypal network (enemy of google wallet and payments).

  16. A couple of suggestions to ponder; all e-mails to go through the rental agency and listings do not show the owner’s e-mail address, just a reference nuymber; and the rental agency to accept credit card payments and hold the money in trust until the beginning of the rental period, perhaps forwarding a deposit to the ownere but only the deposit until the beginning of the rental.
    More work for the rental agencies, but hopefully a bit more security for owners and renters.

  17. I have a tough time feeling bad for people who wire cash to an unknown entity based on an internet transaction.  It just is too dumb for words.

    Use a credit card, people, so you have some protection and strength behind you if there’s a problem.  I don’t know how well banks do to help their customers, but I’ve always found that American Express is very eager to protect people who use AmEx cards.

  18. I don’t understand why vrbo/home away doesn’t set up a system like or with PayPal. I guess it could even charge a small fee if that is what it took. That would then give the customer an option to pay via credit card instead and the protection that offers and vrbo could say that they were not responsible if a customer wired money instead of using a credit card. I’ve rented through vrbo at least a dozen times and the only option I had with each one was to send a check and, thankfully, ive never had a problem.

  19. I think it depends on the circumstances.  But if the renter is contacting the owner outside of the sites T&C then the renter is responsible, they gave up their rights when they went outside the T&C.

  20. What I want to know is: Who still wires money to somebody because of a contact made on the internet?  The fact that you should NEVER do this has been plastered all over just about every media story about internet fraud for at least five years or so.

  21. Ultimately, the owner of the property is responsible for the integrity of their email address, so they are responsible.  However, since you pay directly through HomeAway, it’s their responsibility to refund the money to the consumer and pursue any compensation due to fraud from the owner.

  22. How stupid is the traveling public becoming? I have a beauty of a bridge to sell in NYC for a mere $1600.00, of course I need the money via the internet.

  23. I’m hoping all the bad press will bite HomeAway in the butt. Using its marketshare to bully innocent property owners to compensate ITS customers caught in a phishing scheme is reprehensible. Adding yet another company to my “Do Not Do Business With” list.

  24. I like to use websites like because they are able to give me realatively cheap vacation rentals. Whenever I rent one from them I do my homework and alway pay with some sort of protected payment (Paypal, Credit Card). I learned when I was ten years old to never wire somebody money that you don’t know.

    If HomeAway is required to intervene and refund in everyone’s case that didn’t have a good time, or was not smart enough to not give away money to a complete stranger, that would cause their costs to go up, which would cause my vacation costs to go up.

  25. Y’know, it’s a picky detail, but this isn’t a phishing scam.  This is outright theft.  Phishing is defined as an attempt to information, not to bilk someone directly out of his money.  Asking for bank account information would be phishing; asking for money to be wired is fraud.

    That said, it looks like there’s enough blame to go around (as usual).  No one entity is responsible for the OP’s mistake.  In the end, though, the only one with legal responsibility is probably the thief who took the money.

    1. “In the end, though, the only one with legal responsibility is probably the thief who took the money”

      Sort of makes me wonder why that wasn’t option #4 in the survey above, although obviously collecting from the thief would be easier said than done. Sigh.

  26. Bowden says that she and a group of other unhappy customers plan to file a class-action lawsuit against HomeAway.

    Good luck to them. Unless they can maybe show HomeAway “promised” them directly and materially in some way for some thing, chances are they’re going to end up more frustrated than they already were to begin with.

    But…I’ll let the lawyers deal with that. If some people, though, wish these vacation home listers or so display some form of sense of ownership in this scam, isn’t it equally fair those same people display some form of ownership for their choices?

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