VRBO.com & Homeaway.com Security Problem- SCAM Alert

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I wanted to let everyone know of a situation involving VRBO.com that I just experienced. I have used VRBO successfully many times in the past and have always been pleased with the experience. So in trying to rent a private home for an upcoming trip to Bali for late September/October, I confidently sent several inquiries thru VRBO.com. All were promptly responded to by owners and property managers. On one particular inquiry for Rumah Cinta in Ubud, the person corresponding with me was signing her emails as the owner. I didn't think anything was amiss. I did try to call the owner's cell phone number that was listed on the VRBO.com several times. Without getting a response, I just assumed the owner was traveling and was unable to return my call. The reviews of the property on VRBO.com were very positive. Via email, the "owner" and I agreed on a price for my extended stay. She requested I send the money via a bank transfer. I protested but she said that because I was coming in less than 4 weeks, this was at "their convenience". The bank details that she sent me included the name "Ketut" which is the name of someone listed on the VRBO.com site that watches over the property. With trepidation I transferred the full amount from my bank to theirs. Then... nothing. I contacted VRBO.com this past weekend indicating that I was concerned I had been scammed. I had also purchased their well advertised "CAREFREE RENTAL GUARANTEE" insurance policy which identifies "internet fraud" as one of the 4 issues the policy protects your payment from. Their response to my inquiry was that in fact I had been scammed but blamed it on the lack of security of the owner's email accounts. They then followed with a response that the policy I bought didn't apply or protect me in this case. Frankly, I'm not sure which is worse - the fraud of the internet scam or the policy that protects against internet fraude but not this scenario? How can VRBO.com be sure that the breach was with the owner's email account and not their own site? This must be happening to others. I've done everything I can at this point, including kicking myself for doing a wire transfer. My funds are unrecoverable unless VRBO's insurance policy kicks in. I have worked with my bank to protect my accounts, filed a police report and also filed a report with www.ic3.gov. Shouldn't VRBO.com have more liability than just saying the owner's account was compromised? How is the average renter able to trust any inquiry sent thru the VRBO site? VRBO.com, a division of Homeaway which is a publicly traded company at $40/share on today's market, making lots of money for their shareholders and in fees being a legit intermediary between rentors and potential rentees? They've increased their value by offering hesitant renters the possibility of safety and confidence with their insurance polices. However, the policy (I paid $40 for my "Carefree Rental Guarantee Policy") means nothing when there's an actual breach? I'm now scrapping my entire trip because of the vulnerability I feel. There are so many great property owners out there. What a shame.

Thank you for this alert. I noticed that you cross-posted on the Fodors.com. website. Could I suggest that you also post the information on the Thorn Tree Forum at Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com). Also you might want to let Christopher Elliott (www.elliott.org) know what happened - he often acts as ombudsman when there are problems with travel suppliers.

I hope that VRBO will do some investigating and act in your behalf with the folks who own Rumah Cinta in Ubud.

Hi Joe - thank you for those additional sites on which to post the issue. Someone on Fodors responded to me earlier this morning mentioning Christopher Elliot to me and I sent him my issue. He responded to my email promptly stating that he would follow up. I have never been in a situation like this before so I really appreciate these tips. The travel community is full of such great people. It's such a disappointment when you run into a rotten egg in pursuit of a great trip.

The problem with VRBO is that the owners are presumably based outside the US and therefore not liable to US laws. Of course, in your case there was clear fraud by the so-called "owner". But your legal recourse is limited.

I find it strange that the insurance policy doesn't cover just this thing.

Good luck to you.

Just thought some other places to post the scam alert -- Frommers Community Board: www.Frommers.com and Trip Advisor: www.tripadvisor.com

In addition to the rental problem, travelers might want to be aware of the limits of VRBO's insurance.

When the time comes, let us know how all of this is resolved.

Christopher Elliott did follow up and this article appeared in the elliott.org newsletter on Sept. 24th. Here is the rest of the story.

http://www.elliott.org/blog/case-dismissed-the-carefree-rental-guarantee...

Thank you for this timely alert and reviving this thread which started while I was out of the country. Just yesterday I started thinking about VRBO again and that wonderful looking rental in Venice and was going to work on it today. Now I am very concerned too. All of this is like the Wild West and your experience was quite sobering and unfortunately now in retrospect "obvious" considering how easy it is to scam on the internet these days. It is highway robbery and sadly this is nothing new for travellers to face. Best wishes for some sort of resolution and I wish all of us who benefited from your warning could send you a virtual dollar for the priceless advice you passed on to us.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. We thought we had arranged for a villa in Punta Cana. When we called for confirmation a week before our trip we were advised there was no record of our rental. Homeaway sent us an email CONFIRMING the owners email acct had been breached. How they knew this is hard to understand since they never contacted the home owner. A few days later we received an email that the acct MAY HAVE been breached. Homeaway takes no responsibility in our loss of $5,850.00. They say the problem is between us and the owner.

I wonder if Airbnb might be one of the safer booking agencies to use. You pay Airbnb with a credit card or PayPal and they hold the payment until after you check in and confirm that the property is as described. Also only people who have stayed on a property can post a review. You do pay a bit more for this privilege but peace of mind is worth it.

I haven't used this service -- can anyone who has used it comment on it?

This happened to my son few days ago. We wired funds as you did and 2 weeks later, 3 days ago, we got an email from VROB about a security breach. The owner's number they gave us is not a working number and they would not give me his email. They did say that they were not responsible and the owner's email was compromised. That being said we lost 3800.00. Researching the past few days led me to a Facebook group page called "Victims of HomeAway/VRBO + gmail scam" at http://www.facebook.com/groups/333232700035480/
I asked to join but read the description before you do. I just got accepted to join today and WOW many people are pissed off and they are sharing stories and trying to get a class action lawsuit together. Good Luck. CCL

We booked a stunning property in Spain. Got a contract, a copy of the 'owners' passport and transfered funds. Only to find property was no longer on the web site. We contacted owners direct otherwise known as homeaway and they said they would get back to us. Cutting a long long story short, they take no ownership for anything, they say that they vet their advertisers and that this one slipped the net. The Spanish authorities said this person cleared £30,000 in 2 weeks with this scam and the bank account is empty now. Homeaway offered us £700 and a slap in the face apology. Needless to say we did not accept and we are going to sue. Frankly they are running such a terrible scam. Do not book with them

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Moderator note: light editing.

In April I rented an apt. in Rome, Italy through vrbo.com. I guess I was lucky. I received an alert from vrbo saying some places that I had contacted had been compromised. Fortunately the one I had sent a deposit to was not one of them. I paid my deposit by Paypal. I have previously rented from vrbo and never had to send a bank transfer. They have always asked for a deposit via Paypal and cash in Euros upon arrival. This I think is a little safer. I am sorry for everyone who has lost money and I will be even more careful if I rent again.

Worse than that Steve... They have a rental enquiry log that they can access. As a villa advertizer and owner, I had a man BP who was similarly scammed. He had never enquired with me so how could my email have been breached. I have a screen print of my enquiry log right off the Homeaway site. They are just passing the buck without even checking... They confirmed to BP that my email had been breached but like you I had never had any contact with BP of any kind . I also have a screenprint of my email log search for BP.
THEY ARE BLATENTLY MAKING FALSE STATEMENTS TO MISLEAD YOU AND TO DEFAME THEIR ADVERTIZERS. I suggest you get a lawyer. Here are other ways that this could be happening:
1. The Homeaway site has been breached
2. The traveller enquired at another villa that was advertised and that email was breached then the fraudsters selected a different villa [travellers often enquire at several villas and may be confused] and sent them correspondence pretending to be the owner of that villa.
3.Homeaway has fraudulent villas being advertised on their site who are gathering travellers names and requirements and then sending them fraudulent responses at discounted prices again posing as the real owner and using their name which they can get from the Homeaway site
4. Homeaway has an employee who is feeding them enquiry information.
As a Villa renter I am as disgusted as you. I contacted 90 villa owners In Seminyak Bali through the Homeaway site enquiry system to tell them to contact me urgently re information I have on this scam. Only 7 replied. Of that 7, 3 said the villas were not available and 4 joined me in contacting each and every person who ahs enquired at our villas for the last six months warning them. So far we have found 4 victims. Many did not rent a villa that they initially enquired with.
I now add this to my response to every enquiry I get.
Please note that recently there have been internet phishing frauds on some villas in Bali. As a protection to this we recommend that prior to making any payments you ALWAYS telephone the owner direct to confirm your correspondence is legitimate. You can confirm the phone number of the true villa owner by checking on the Homeaway ad. This one step will defeat any phishing scam. We do not want to concern you but feel as responsible villa owners it is our obligation to warn you regardless of whether you rent our villa or the villa of another owner.
The phishers often offer the same villa at a discounted price with a link to the Homeaway Advertisement,however payment details, terms and conditions will be different and telephone numbers non existant.
Below are known fraudulent email address
Fraudulent emails:
Bali Vacation Rentals
balirentals@PelautIndonesia.com
vilaombali@live.com
They also use names like:
Bali Holiday
Seminyak Rentals
If you have been a victim of such a phishing scam please contact the UK fraud squad
confidential@sfo.gsi.gov.uk

I hope this helps. You or your lawyer can contact me through my Homeaway ad Property 424469 and I am happy to send on further information we have thus far collected
Homeaway customer support took 2 weeks to respond to 5 contact requests and then sent me a letter denying liablity and telling my email acocunt had been breached... no mean feat considering the cutomer had never emailed me. They offer NO CUSTOMER SUPPORT... IT IS THEIR CUSTOMERS WHO ARE SUPPORTING THEM.
SHAME ON YOU HOMEAWAY AND VRBO IS NO BETTER!!!!!

BOTH HOMEAWAY AND VRBO have a rental enquiry log that they can access. As a villa advertizer and owner, I had a man BP who was similarly scammed. He had never enquired with me so how could my email have been breached. I have a screen print of my enquiry log right off the Homeaway site. They are just passing the buck without even checking... They confirmed to BP that my email had been breached YET I had never had any contact with BP of any kind . I also have a screenprint of my email log search for BP.
HOMEAWAY AND VRBO ARE BLATENTLY MAKING FALSE STATEMENTS TO MISLEAD YOU AND TO DEFAME THEIR ADVERTIZERS. I suggest you get a lawyer. Here are other ways that this could be happening:
1. The Homeaway site has been breached
2. The traveller enquired at another villa that was advertised and that email was breached then the fraudsters selected a different villa [travellers often enquire at several villas and may be confused] and sent them correspondence pretending to be the owner of that villa.
3.Homeaway has fraudulent villas being advertised on their site who are gathering travellers names and requirements and then sending them fraudulent responses at discounted prices again posing as the real owner and using their name which they can get from the Homeaway site
4. Homeaway has an employee who is feeding them enquiry information.
As a Villa owner I am as disgusted as you. I contacted 90 villa owners In Seminyak Bali through the Homeaway site enquiry system to tell them to contact me urgently re information I have on this scam. Only 7 replied. Of that 7, 3 said the villas were not available and 4 joined me in contacting each and every person who HAS enquired at our villas for the last six months warning them. So far we have found 4 victims. Many did not rent a villa that they initially enquired with.
I now add this to my response to every enquiry I get.
"Please note that recently there have been internet phishing frauds on some villas in Bali. As a protection to this we recommend that prior to making any payments you ALWAYS telephone the owner direct to confirm your correspondence is legitimate. You can confirm the phone number of the true villa owner by checking on the Homeaway ad. This one step will defeat any phishing scam. We do not want to concern you but feel as responsible villa owners it is our obligation to warn you regardless of whether you rent our villa or the villa of another owner.
The phishers often offer the same villa at a discounted price with a link to the Homeaway Advertisement,however payment details, terms and conditions will be different and telephone numbers non existant.
Below are known fraudulent email address
Fraudulent emails:
Bali Vacation Rentals
balirentals@PelautIndonesia.com
vilaombali@live.com
They also use names like:
Bali Holiday
Seminyak Rentals
If you have been a victim of such a phishing scam please contact the UK fraud squad
confidential@sfo.gsi.gov.uk "

I hope this helps. You or your lawyer can contact me through my Homeaway ad Property 424469 and I am happy to send on further information we have thus far collected
Homeaway customer support took 2 weeks to respond to 5 contact requests and then sent me a letter denying liablity and telling my email acocunt had been breached... no mean feat considering the customer had never emailed me. They offer NO CUSTOMER SUPPORT... IT IS THEIR CUSTOMERS WHO ARE SUPPORTING THEM.
SHAME ON YOU HOMEAWAY AND VRBO IS NO BETTER!!!!!

I feel bad for your situation. I'm leaving in 4 months for Costa Rica. The rental property has been removed from the VRBO web page. The owner received half of the deposit through Pay Pal. I got a confirmation from owner. I'm just nervous about this being a scam since the rental is no longer listed. I realy feel that VRBO should stand behind what they say. Carefree should cover these situations.