VRBO / Homeaway – Not Doing Enough to Protect Customers from Scams

  • Hi Guest, welcome to the help forum. You can get fast answers to your customer service questions here. We have a dedicated team of advocates who are ready to help. Just go to the section that matches your question and ask us!
  • If you've posted a question or issue for our advocates to assist with, please be sure to check back frequently for responses and requests for clarification.
  • Did you know you can get email notifications when something new posts to your favorite forum? It's easy. Just click the "watch" link right next to the "post new thread" button at the top of your favorite forum. The rest is easy. Now you'll never miss another conversation.
  • Want to become an expert user? Drop by the How to use this forum section and all will be revealed. We'll show you how to make the most of your experience.
Oct 28, 2017
3
1
1
39
#1
I’ve read some of the other posts on this site regarding rental property customers who lost money as the result of a phishing scam whereby the property owner’s account was hacked. I was also a victim of this crime, but I took additional measures to raise my concerns to Homeaway/VRBO during the rental process and I believe that had they had proper policies in place, this situation could have been avoided. They have offered to refund me half of my lost funds as they do feel there is “shared responsibility,” but I think they are not fully addressing this issue and doing enough to protect their customers.

Earlier this year, I submitted an inquiry through VRBO for a vacation rental. I immediately received a response via email through the VRBO site with some initial information and a commitment for additional information to come. From there, there were a few days of correspondence between myself and the property manager regarding all of the dates and details. Eventually, we made a decision and were provided payment information, which was a wire transfer. This seemed suspicious to me and I was concerned about fraud. So I called the VRBO customer service number and spoke to a representative about my inquiry and concerns about wire fraud. I explicitly asked: “How do I know this isn’t a scam? How do I know this guy is legit?” The representative looked up the owner’s account and assured me he was in good standing based on the many positive reviews and tenure with VRBO. While he said that if I was worried about the wire transfer, I see about trying to pay another way, the customer service representative ultimately put my concerns to rest, and I told him that at the end of our call. Two days later, I wired the funds.

At no point in this process did it occur to me that I was not dealing with the actual property manager or was not following VRBO’s standard customer path because all of this had initiated through the VRBO website. I had used VRBO before but it was years ago and didn’t recall the process, just that it had been a good experience. The only incident that seemed odd was the request for wire transfer, but again, the customer relations rep assured me that the property manager was legitimate. The representative emailed me confirmation of our call along with the property manager’s name, phone number, and year the account was created. I called the number but it was a strange Vonage number with a digital voice message. I left a message, but didn’t get a response. I did, however, get an email from the property manager (which I assumed was in response to my voicemail). Again, from there, we completed the wire transfer.

Months later, after realizing something wasn’t right, I contacted VRBO. They initially pointed us to their Basic Rental Guarantee, but that was without even understanding the details of our case or taking any action to alert the account owner. After calling multiple times and talking to different agents, we finally convinced them that there was a scam associated with this account. They then sent emails to any customers who had inquired about that property through their site warning of the potential for a scam. I’m glad they did that.

As far as the money we were out: After their “leadership team” listened to my call to the customer service representative, they eventually offered me half of the lost funds as they “heard some things on the call they weren’t happy with” and acknowledged that the representative gave me “confusing direction.” They won’t share with me the transcript of the conversation. When I asked what more I could have done to avoid falling victim to this crime (other than never using their site in the first place), they said: “You could have called the phone number you were given by the rep.” But I DID call and never got a response. (In fact, my husband and I tried multiple times when we became suspicious and never got a response. The number is the property manager’s, but we think our messages were recorded by never sent.) In the end, I declined VRBO’s offer.

What makes this all so much more frustrating is that, in speaking with the property manager, he informed me that someone else had almost fallen victim to this scam. IN MAY (BEFORE MY CALL TO THE REP), a customer contacted him with wire transfer details that they had received from someone posing as him. He realized his account had been compromised and is adamant that he called VRBO in MAY to inform them of the security breach. IF VRBO WOULD HAVE FLAGGED HIS ACCOUNT AT THAT TIME AS POSSIBLY RELATED TO A SCAM, I WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN A VICTIM OF THIS CRIME. They claim they have no record of a call from the property manager in May, but he has absolutely no reason to lie.

VRBO had multiple opportunities to prevent this from happening to me, yet their system failed. And based on everything I’ve seen and experienced, it is absolutely going to happen to others.
 

jsn55

Verified Member
Dec 26, 2014
6,672
6,666
113
San Francisco
#2
Georgia, you are absolutely right, these scams have happened, are happening and will continue to happen. In my eyes, the VR business is a slippery one ... websites like VRBO "guarantee" all kinds of things, but in reality they don't do much at all. They seem to keep falling back on "we're just a match-making website". Which, of course, is pure baloney.

Here's where I see that things went sideways for you: "When I asked what more I could have done to avoid falling victim to this crime (other than never using their site in the first place), they said: “You could have called the phone number you were given by the rep.” But I DID call and never got a response. (In fact, my husband and I tried multiple times when we became suspicious and never got a response".

If you could not get a response, the funds should not have been wired. I have only had a few (very successful) vacation rentals since I got serious about hotel loyalty programs. But my sister uses VRBO all the time and has for years. She pays no attention to all the warnings, she finds what she wants, talks to the owner/property manager, and follows their instructions, often wiring funds well in advance of the stay. She rents 8-12 times a year through VRBO; even for a one-night stay. I think she's lucky, she thinks that she is able to tell from a real conversation on the phone if the other guy is legit or not. Who knows?

I hope that you can convince VRBO to make this right for you.
 
Likes: Neil Maley

Neil Maley

Moderator
Staff Member
Advocate
Dec 27, 2014
12,772
12,753
113
New York
www.promalvacations.com
#3
I believe VRBOs FAQ tell you never to wire in their rules.


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.
 
Oct 28, 2017
3
1
1
39
#4
Georgia, you are absolutely right, these scams have happened, are happening and will continue to happen. In my eyes, the VR business is a slippery one ... websites like VRBO "guarantee" all kinds of things, but in reality they don't do much at all. They seem to keep falling back on "we're just a match-making website". Which, of course, is pure baloney.

Here's where I see that things went sideways for you: "When I asked what more I could have done to avoid falling victim to this crime (other than never using their site in the first place), they said: “You could have called the phone number you were given by the rep.” But I DID call and never got a response. (In fact, my husband and I tried multiple times when we became suspicious and never got a response".

If you could not get a response, the funds should not have been wired. I have only had a few (very successful) vacation rentals since I got serious about hotel loyalty programs. But my sister uses VRBO all the time and has for years. She pays no attention to all the warnings, she finds what she wants, talks to the owner/property manager, and follows their instructions, often wiring funds well in advance of the stay. She rents 8-12 times a year through VRBO; even for a one-night stay. I think she's lucky, she thinks that she is able to tell from a real conversation on the phone if the other guy is legit or not. Who knows?

I hope that you can convince VRBO to make this right for you.
Thank you for your response. I'd like to work with VRBO to implement a few simple actions they can take that I feel will help prevent this from happening to others.
 
Likes: divinemsmstl
Oct 28, 2017
3
1
1
39
#5
I believe VRBOs FAQ tell you never to wire in their rules.


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.
Thank you for taking the time to read and reply to my post. I'm having trouble finding the FAQs you're referencing on their mobile site. I think part of the issue may be that while this information is on the site, it is not made clearly visible to customers, especially on their mobile site.
 

Neil Maley

Moderator
Staff Member
Advocate
Dec 27, 2014
12,772
12,753
113
New York
www.promalvacations.com
#6
Thank you for your response. I'd like to work with VRBO to implement a few simple actions they can take that I feel will help prevent this from happening to others.
They already have them - they tell you not to wire money. No mobile site on a phone gives you a full website you can search for everything. On the bottom of the mobile site there is a disclaimer that says:

Use of this website constitutes acceptance of the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy with 2 links to them. You always need to CLICK ON the whole site and if you have clicked on those Terms you will also tell you a lot of important information, like they are not a party of any Rental Agreement or other Transaction between users of the site. (Basically they aren't responsible for what happened to you).

And those terms also talk in section 31 about payment methods and Wires are not allowed.

So the tools are all right there to protect yourself, there is nothing else that VRBO needs to do - they are covered legally. Whenever you book a trip you really need to read all the terms of what you are booking to protect yourself. Wired money is a huge no no when paying for any type of vacation.
 
Oct 13, 2015
82
269
53
49
#7
Thank you for taking the time to read and reply to my post. I'm having trouble finding the FAQs you're referencing on their mobile site. I think part of the issue may be that while this information is on the site, it is not made clearly visible to customers, especially on their mobile site.
I'm on my cell phone now and it was easy to find. If you click on the menu icon you get a list of options. Click on Help from the list and what Neil linked is under Traveler Security.
 

jsn55

Verified Member
Dec 26, 2014
6,672
6,666
113
San Francisco
#8
Thank you for taking the time to read and reply to my post. I'm having trouble finding the FAQs you're referencing on their mobile site. I think part of the issue may be that while this information is on the site, it is not made clearly visible to customers, especially on their mobile site.
LIfe would be much smoother for lots of people if they would stop performing complex transactions and research on their phones. By using a computer, you can see what you're doing much more clearly, and you have access to much more information. There's not a bunch of info "over there" that you don't see on a small screen. What is so incredibly urgent that you can't wait until you're able to use a real computer to book travel?
 
#9
LIfe would be much smoother for lots of people if they would stop performing complex transactions and research on their phones. By using a computer, you can see what you're doing much more clearly, and you have access to much more information. There's not a bunch of info "over there" that you don't see on a small screen. What is so incredibly urgent that you can't wait until you're able to use a real computer to book travel?
@jsn55 you are so right. I would never, ever, book an expensive trip using my phone. My thumbs are fat and uncoordinated, my voice causes strange things to appear on my screen in voice mode and my cellular service is sometimes spotty, at best. Use real keys on a real keyboard and read everything on every page. Ipsa scientia potestas est (knowledge itself is power). The most important attribute in searching for travel deals is skepticism. Trust but verify. Don't blindly go where no one has gone before. You're shelling out a lot of money. Treat a travel purchase as you would treat the purchase of a used car. Don't be afraid to kick the tires and don't be afraid to ask the important questions.
 

jsn55

Verified Member
Dec 26, 2014
6,672
6,666
113
San Francisco
#10
@jsn55 you are so right. I would never, ever, book an expensive trip using my phone. My thumbs are fat and uncoordinated, my voice causes strange things to appear on my screen in voice mode and my cellular service is sometimes spotty, at best. Use real keys on a real keyboard and read everything on every page. Ipsa scientia potestas est (knowledge itself is power). The most important attribute in searching for travel deals is skepticism. Trust but verify. Don't blindly go where no one has gone before. You're shelling out a lot of money. Treat a travel purchase as you would treat the purchase of a used car. Don't be afraid to kick the tires and don't be afraid to ask the important questions.
Apparently we are not the only ones thinking this way. I was booking something at Chase with Ultimate Rewards this morning, and there was a little banner stating that you should use your computer instead of your phone for complex transactions. Hard to grasp that people need to be told to do this.
 
Last edited:
Likes: 911Lady
May 17, 2016
401
402
63
#15
LIfe would be much smoother for lots of people if they would stop performing complex transactions and research on their phones. By using a computer, you can see what you're doing much more clearly, and you have access to much more information. There's not a bunch of info "over there" that you don't see on a small screen. What is so incredibly urgent that you can't wait until you're able to use a real computer to book travel?
At last! Sensible advice about using a computer versus a cell phone! I can never understand why people are willing to do complicated and expensive transactions through a limited website, and often over insecure connections. Would I ever connect with my bank or credit card providers over a cell phone? Never in a million years! Same with purchasing anything. Instant gratification has too many pitfalls.
 

jsn55

Verified Member
Dec 26, 2014
6,672
6,666
113
San Francisco
#16
Yup, I understand the mentality that creates zombies out of normal humans, but the rest of us have more common sense. When I got my phone (OK, smart phone), I was all excited to be able to read my email and stuff on my phone, so I set it all up (OK, I had lots of help). I have no idea why I thought this was cool, but all my friends did this, so ....

Well, one day I beamed up something and there was a list of every single plane and hotel res I owned ... automatically brought up on my screen. These were reservations made at United, Virgin, Hilton, InterContinental DIRECTLY. No thank you, Google (I'm sure it's Google who does this), I'll be fine without access through my phone. I truly think people who "live" on their smartphones are mentally challenged! Why would you want to do this ... instant gratification only goes so far, right? I can tell who is reading emails on their phones because their responses are so lame. Ask them 3 questions and you get one answer. You know they're not processing information at all, just pushing buttons on their phones. I do love to watch them walk into walls at the airport, tho.
 
Likes: AMA
May 17, 2016
401
402
63
#17
Yup, I understand the mentality that creates zombies out of normal humans, but the rest of us have more common sense. When I got my phone (OK, smart phone), I was all excited to be able to read my email and stuff on my phone, so I set it all up (OK, I had lots of help). I have no idea why I thought this was cool, but all my friends did this, so ....

Well, one day I beamed up something and there was a list of every single plane and hotel res I owned ... automatically brought up on my screen. These were reservations made at United, Virgin, Hilton, InterContinental DIRECTLY. No thank you, Google (I'm sure it's Google who does this), I'll be fine without access through my phone. I truly think people who "live" on their smartphones are mentally challenged! Why would you want to do this ... instant gratification only goes so far, right? I can tell who is reading emails on their phones because their responses are so lame. Ask them 3 questions and you get one answer. You know they're not processing information at all, just pushing buttons on their phones. I do love to watch them walk into walls at the airport, tho.
Great minds think alike! We're living the zombie apocalypse.
 

jsn55

Verified Member
Dec 26, 2014
6,672
6,666
113
San Francisco
#18
Great minds think alike! We're living the zombie apocalypse.
And if you want further proof, Joyce, I'm at a hotel at the Cincinnati airport right now ... I just entered the elevator with one other guy. I pushed the button for my floor, he stuck his nose into his phone. When I departed the elevator, he was still standing there watching his phone. I wonder how long he'll be on that elevator before he realizes that he has to PUSH A BUTTON for his floor. His phone won't do that for him. OTOH, perhaps there's an app for that.