Booking the perfect beach house? Watch for scammers

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Be careful when booking that perfect beach house. Scammers are out there.

For the past 12 years the Kobsik family would get together and rent a house at the beach. This year, Ed Dolan was in charge of finding the perfect home to fit his extended family of 20.

The extended Kobsik family.

"You have your wish list, and we came across this place and I sent my inquiry," Dolan said.

Through the online rental website VRBO, which is part of the HomeAway family, Nolan found a rental house on Ocean Isle Beach. On the VRBO website, he inquired about the rental and got a response from Jessica Smith, who claimed to be the property manager.

"In response from my inquiry, it looked like it came from your HomeAway inquiry and like I said, it says respond in your dashboard, or respond to this email, and what I did was respond to the email," Dolan said.

He emailed back and forth with Smith, asked for more pictures of the rental property and asked questions. He thought it was the perfect place for their family vacation.

"Got a contract, printed it out, signed it, scanned it and emailed it back. They checked all of that and said great, and said I will send you the wiring information," Dolan said.

Dolan saw the warning on HomeAway's website that said not to wire any money.

"It says do not use Western Union money, I was a little hesitant but when it was bank to bank I thought it was some type of protection or safety or it was legit," he said.

In the emails, the property manager stated the owner of the property only accepts bank transfers, no credit cards or HomeAway payments. Through his bank, Dolan transferred $11,670 to reserve his week at the beach house for this summer.

He thought everything was in order until he tried to email Smith after the transfer.

"I didn't get a response, so I called this phone number and they were like we don't know who this property manager is," Dolan said.

It was then that he realized he had been scammed.

"They put a flag out on the property and then they reached out to me and said you may have been a victim of a phishing scam," Dolan said.

According to HomeAway here is how the phishing scam works: "Phishing is the act of a scammer tricking an individual into revealing personal or confidential information. In the vacation rental industry, this occurs when a homeowner mistakenly provides a criminal with their email password, enabling criminals to assume the owner's identity and intercept email communications with travelers."

A rep with HomeAway adds that phishing is a rare occurrence among HomeAway owners and property managers, only happening with 0.02 percent of transactions.

In Dolan's case, he thought he was talking to the property manager; instead he was emailing back and forth with a scammer. Dolan's $11,670 is gone.

HomeAway adds, "The most important thing for people to know when booking a vacation rental is that they should book it and pay for it online, through the HomeAway website. By doing so, they are covered by our Book with Confidence Guarantee.

In cases where people unfortunately do not, they are still covered by our basic rental guarantee.

As for Dolan, since he paid for the rental through a bank transfer and not through HomeAway's website, he's out the majority of his money. He did file a claim with HomeAway's basic rental guarantee to try to recoup the $1,000. He now has advice for others renting homes.

"Just be careful and definitely dot their I's and cross their T's and make sure they have a conversation with the property owners or property managers," Dolan said.

HomeAway says since these incidents of phishing occur outside the HomeAway system, they strive to educate people both onsite through their Security Center and via email communications that explain online identity theft and provide tips for protection.

In order to make booking a vacation rental as secure as possible, HomeAway recommends the following tips to travelers:

1. Speak directly with the owner or property manager by calling the telephone number published on the HomeAway listing for the property you want to book - don't trust phone numbers found in email.

2. Read the reviews - other travelers often provide helpful feedback about the vacation rental.

3. Look for properties that offer online booking and pay with a credit card - if someone is trying to get you to pay through a wire transfer service, walk away.

4. Trust your gut instinct. If the price is too good to be true, then it probably is.
Related Topics:
travelvacationrental scamstroubleshooterabc11 troubleshooterChapel HillNorth Carolina
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