Renters…Beware!

Editor’s note: This is long…but worth reading if you ever use vacation rental websites…

Ever since our son and his fiance announced their intention of being married on Martha’s Vineyard (YAY!!) I have been on the hunt for a rental property to house my family for the week of the event. Renting a home for a large group, as opposed to booking individual hotel rooms, makes sense economically. With a group, the per night cost is much less, plus you can cook many of your own meals as opposed to eating out. And, you get to hang out together, which is always fun when you have family coming in from other parts of the country. We have rented many homes on Martha’s Vineyard with family and friends in the olden days, before the internet was invented (yup, I am THAT old). Back then, you got the Boston Sunday Globe-in paper form-grabbed the rentals section and sat circling tiny 1 inch ads of properties on the island while sipping your Sunday morning coffee. Like this:

Newspaper Classified SectionThen you contacted the listing agent or homeowner on the telephone

Antique Wall Phoneand they mailed you hard-copies of the listings. The process was tedious, but it worked. We had many a great summer vacation at some beautiful homes… such fun memories.

Fast forward to the information super highway with anything you want or need, literally at your fingertips! Nowadays, I use several different vacation rental websites to find and procure our vacation homes, mostly with great success. Until this recent search, I thought the biggest issue was that there are just so many rentals online to peruse with thousands of pictures, that it becomes just a bit overwhelming! But, this time around has proven to be a different story. The first rental I chose, through HomeAway.com was a gorgeous estate in very close proximity to the venue. Perfect for our family-even had a pool! I had been in touch with the property owner several times to discuss the dates available, etc. So I booked the home online, confident that my search was over. Imagine my dismay when I received a phone call from the owner the following day stating that she was very sorry, but she had been busy traveling all summer and hadn’t had a chance to update her listing. Now the price, instead of being $5000 for 5 days, was now $10,000 for the same time frame : 0 Needless to say, I canceled that reservation, not only because the price was WAY more than I wanted to spend, but because I was furious that I wasted all that time and energy with some chick that has this giant mansion as her income property playtoy. Fortunately, she refunded my deposit immediately and I was back on the vacation home hunt once again. This past week, I found a second home, this time on VRBO.com (a sister site to HomeAway) an old B&B that is now a private rental. 10 bedrooms, each with its own bath, right near downtown Oak Bluffs, within walking distance to everything. Again, I contacted the agent through the website portal and awaited a response. To my delight, she emailed me the next morning stating that the property was available for my rental dates. AND, instead of the $5000, it would only be $3000 AND if I paid it all up front, she would also give me an additional 15% off! Looks legit, right? I mean, it has the HomeAway logo on it. But look at the email address:

First Ad Response

Now, if you have rented on the Vineyard before, you know that 1. The price is NEVER cheaper than advertised and 2. An extra discount for booking early is rare-you HAVE to book early-prime properties go fast, especially during the “wedding season” on the island. So I emailed her back and said yes, but all the while, knowing in my gut, something was not quite right. She emailed requesting my information (now, I’m not an English teacher but I can spot a run-on sentence when I see one…)

Rental Reponse 2then sent me the contract and rental agreement, and that’s when I really decided something was up.

Rental Invoice

The fake company and foreign bank listed on the rental agreement were the confirmation I needed. Good thing they have a Carefree Rental Guarantee!HomeAway Rental AgreementWhile I was in the process of investigating further (and preparing to contact the website company to report my suspicions) but well BEFORE I sent my $2850 to England, I received a phone call, this time from the real listing agent. After a short conversation, we realized that following my initial inquiry, the hacker had been intercepting both my incoming and the rental agent’s outgoing emails and had used my information to create the false invoice! Suffice to say, we were both a little freaked out-she, because this is her livelihood and the hacker was able to steal her listing to create a fraudulent one and me, because I was would have been out a LOT of money had I not been paying attention! I forwarded her the email correspondence from the hacker and she, in turn, reported it to VRBO. Within 20 minutes, I received an urgent warning message from VRBO stating that there was fraudulent action on the listing (Ya THINK!?). Which was cool that they were right on top of it. But not cool that the hacker was able to do this in the first place on a secure website. On the other hand, I suppose if they can shut down airports and banks, a little rental agency on the Vineyard would be a day at the beach for a hacker…literally.  So there you go. A word of warning to all of you would-be renters out there. Do your homework and follow the instructions on the rental websites: always talk to the listing person, be aware of things like poor grammar and false emails and remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably, definitely is. Have a great weekend everyone-I hope Joaquin doesn’t make a visit to your part of the Americas! Susan

Comments

  1. Wow Susan! You can now add Private Detective to your list of jobs. Sorry you had to go through all of this. You are so right though- always be suspicious when dealing online! Bad people out there! Glad you caught it and good luck with your search. I hope that first lady ends up not getting any bookings because she is so greedy!

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