Was this Grand Canyon vacation rental a grand scam?

Hey, where did my deposit go?
The rental cabin in Williams, Ariz., she found through VRBO.com had three bedrooms — the perfect size for her family. So last year, Trudi Wood sent the owner a $839 check for a deposit.

But everything wasn’t as it seemed.

“It only had two bedrooms,” says Wood. “We discovered the deception by reading the reviews posted after we sent our check.”

Good thing the owner had promised the deposit was “100 percent” refundable — a promise she’d gotten in writing. If he didn’t offer a prompt refund, then maybe VRBO.com, the trusted intermediary through which she’d found the rental, would help her.

If only.

When I asked for a refund of our $839. The owner refused.

VRBO.com was no help. They simply say they don’t get into disputes between renters and renters. My husband and I contacted the FBI’s Internet fraud division, who were supposed to contact local authorities.

We’ve heard nothing.

Here we go again! I’ve covered renter problems with phishing on VRBO and its parent company HomeAway. In those cases, HomeAway has been crystal-clear about its position: It’s not liable for any transaction that goes wrong; it’s just the middleman.

But this case is a little different. Wood alleges the cabin owner claimed to have three bedrooms when there were in fact only two. That’s false advertising, and I thought HomeAway would be concerned if one of its owners posted a misleading listing.

So I contacted HomeAway on her behalf. A representative agreed to “take a look” at her case on Feb. 29. I followed up with Wood last week to find out if there had been a resolution.

“No one from HomeAway has contacted me at all,” says Wood. “I’ve only had responses from them saying they did not get into resolutions with their renters.”

Wood’s Grand Canyon vacation is ruined, her $839 deposit is gone, and now she’s getting radio silence from HomeAway. What now?

Since her case has been referred to the FBI and local law enforcement, I’m not sure if there’s anything else she or I can do. Normally, when lawyers or law enforcement get involved, it’s practically impossible to mediate a case. (And that’s especially true if the lawyers come after, ahem, me.)

I think it’s best to let the investigation run its course for now.

The only question that remains is whether HomeAway could have done more to help.

I’m a big fan of vacation rentals and what HomeAway has done. It’s made the home rental product more accessible to millions of American travelers. I’ve used HomeAway, and I really like the idea behind the product.

What’s always set HomeAway and VRBO.com apart from Craigslist and other Internet classifieds, is that it offers assurances that you’re dealing with a reputable owner, you’re getting a real listing, and that at the end of the day, you can rent with peace of mind.

There’s also an implicit promise that HomeAway is endorsing these rentals and will stake its reputation on them. And here, I think, is where the disconnect between the renter and the company is happening.

HomeAway is saying there’s no such endorsement, and that if something goes wrong with your rental, you need to work it out with the owner. Renters are disappointed, because they thought they could lean on HomeAway when something bad happened with their vacation rental.

Who’s right? I can see both sides of this conflict, but my sympathies are with the renter. No one deserves to lose their deposit.

And while I’m not sure if Wood will ever get her money back, I think we can prevent this from happening again. HomeAway needs to either step up and be the service it wants us to believe it is — and stand behind its rentals — or it should stop pretending it’s anything more than an Internet classified service.

And customers like Wood? They need to stop renting from anyone who doesn’t accept credit cards.

(Photo: B. Rosen/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • LeeAnneClark

    This is an entirely different situation than the other recent VRBO incidents that you’ve reported – those were actual scams perpetrated by clever con men who hacked into a listing or email address, with no knowledge or complicity by either the property owner or VRBO.   In those cases I do not feel that VRBO should be held responsible at all – first of all, it was a crime committed by an anonymous criminal probably in some West African nation that neither VRBO nor the property owner has control over, nor access to. Second, those types of scams are so easy to avoid (by never wiring money to strangers!) that, as far as I’m concerned, anyone who falls for them is just a complete idiot and deserves to lose their money.

    But this was different.  This was a flat-out fraudulent listing!  This was VRBO’s own client (the property owner), using VRBO to place a fraudulent ad, knowing full well that they were misrepresenting their property, and then blatantly and provably lying about their refund policy.  If VRBO allows these types of things to happen, then there is simply no point in using them at all – anybody can post ANYTHING, take money from people, and give nothing in return!  The criminal here is the property owner, and VRBO is knowingly allowing them to get away with a crime, and doing nothing about it.

    What’s worse, VRBO/HomeAway states right on their website that they offer a guarantee!  Here’s the link:  http://www.homeaway.com/guarantee/tac.html

    It says right there that they provide $10,000 in protection!  All over that page are phrases like “Carefree rental guarantee” and “rent with confidence.”  Really?  Here’s a blatant case of being ripped off by the property owner, and VRBO won’t do anything about it?

    If you read that guarantee, it seems pretty darn clear that VRBO/HomeAway owes the OP their deposit back.  I find it bizarre for them to say they “don’t get involved in disputes.”  Then what the heck is that guarantee all about?  Why, right on their home page, does it say “Rental Guarantee” at all, if they don’t actually offer a guarantee?

    I think it’s a shame that you won’t get involved now that they’ve reported it to the FBI.  I think this is a case that demands mediation.  I highly doubt the FBI or law enforcement will do a damn thing – they’ll consider it just a business dispute.  This is exactly the type of case that cries out for an ombudsmen like yourself, Christopher.

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    I can’t see how the owner could get away with fraudulently adding a third room. Was it a closet that doubled as a bedroom? Without reading reviews before booking a property, you’re simply taking the owner’s word and who knows what kind of person s/he is….

    That being said, I can’t understand why VRBO wouldn’t simply flex their muscles and threaten to pull the listing when there are so many valid / documented complaints against an owner. In the scheme of things, it doesn’t cost them anything and in this case, they’re the only one with any authority, unless you involve the courts. Their refusal to take responsibility means they accept a free-for-all environment. No sense in making any guarantees or even suggesting a layer of protection for the consumer in that case.

    Also, wonder why the OP contacted the FBI before filing in small claims court? Contacting the FBI would possibly end in revoking their license, but wouldn’t help with getting her money back. Seems like an open and shut case to me, perhaps even with damages tacked on.

  • Raven_Altosk

    VRBO needs to get involved in this one. It isn’t a Nigerian scam, it’s a legit offering that has been misrepresented by the owner.

  • TonyA_says

    If the owner outwardly lied and misrepresented the number of rooms and refundability of payments then that’s fraud. Unless Vrbo or Homeaway can reliably vet owners and their ads, they should stop impressing upon people that they are any better than craigslist or the classified ads of any newspaper. I believe that the short term rental of homes, apartments, and rooms should have some regulations and certifications from local authorities. My tax bill acurately reflects the size of my home and the number and types of rooms. And, that’s available online for anyone to check. I don’t understand why a decent listing site can’t do a better job with all the information that is already available out there?

  • emanon256

    Many counties have websites where you can log on and see the size, rooms, zoning, etc. of any house as long as you know the address.  I have found this for every county I have looked in when trying to verify my own house and it’s always been free of charge.  I don’t know if every county offers such a free service, but VRBO should utilize this to ensure the accuracy of their listing. Especially if they offer a guarantee!  Sadly, it sounds like they simply don’t honor their guarantee.  This is a sad one, it’s downright fraud and VRBO needs to step up.  I wonder how many other people are renting this house, and how many other people are listing fraudulent houses?

  • emanon256

    Chris, could you post a link to the listing?

  • SoBeSparky

    Never pay cash or wire transfer money for any travel deposits unless you consider it meaningless petty cash.

    When you pay a deposit, or worse pay in advance with cash, you lose all leverage with the property, whether it is a hotel, VRBO or similar.  All the consumer advocates and law enforcement people cannot help you with your vacation once you have parted with your money.   Time goes by and people hold your money as long as they can, months or years.

    So you either use a travel agent, or pay through a credit card, not paypal.  Never pay cash.  Just don’t even think about it.  Why “consumer” columns continue to try to negotiate with con men who demand cash is amazing to me.  P.T. Barnum was a student of the basic and never-changing human condition.

  • emanon256

    I am curious why not PayPal?  My real estate agent owns a rental condo and exclusively uses VRBO and will only use PayPal, she says it’s the safest thing to do for both parties.
    I have rented three times in the past through VRBO and each time they only took a check, and each time everything worked out, but that was before I started reading Chris’s column.  I will never pay by check that again and consider myself lucky.

  • john4868

    The fine print on the “guarantee” makes it useless. If the two parties don’t agree that a refund is due, it is not enforceable (spelled out in the T&Cs). Do we know why the owner has refused the refund and under what terms he said it was refundable (since its all in writing)?

    Having said that… The issue is with the fraudulent lister not VRBO.  Under the terms of the “gaurantee,” VRBO owes the OP nothing. I do think that they may have an issue if they continue to list the property in question knowing that it represents itself fraudulently.

  • Cyn2

    After a disappointing experience with a home my mom rented with VRBO a couple of years ago, this doesn’t really surprise me.
    She had picked a property in the greater Denver area that was not too far away from my brother’s house for Christmas, and one of the deciding factors was that the property had a garage listed as an amenity.  We got to town to find that the owner had parked their own car in the garage, and in such a way that no other cars would fit in.  In additiona, the property CC&Rs, which were conveniently left out on the table for us to review, stated that cars could not be parked in the visitors’ parking for more than 3 days.  We were planning to stay for a week.  And, of course, it snowed the whole time we were there.  Instead of having the convenience of a garage to put at least one of our 2 cars into, we were worried about both cars being towed by the HOA the whole time we were there.
    We contacted VRBO as soon as we got there, and they refused to do anything – even to contact the owner.  They claimed that the garage was not part of the rental, although it was clearly listed on the property page as one of the amenities, and was still listed there days and even weeks later. The property itself has since been removed.
    It would be much more convenient for us, when visiting, to stay in a property with a real kitchen and so forth, but for now, we’ll go back to staying at a hotel when we visit.  We won’t be dealing with VRBO/HomeAway again any time soon.

  • Rachel

     It appears that this guarantee is only in effect if the renter opts to pay an additional fee for it.  The fee depends on the total amount of the rental cost and starts at $39.  It would be interesting to know if the OP enrolled in this program and is still getting the run-around from HomeAway. 

  • sirwired

    There is no “implicit promise” that the ad is accurate.  In fact, the guarantee that was linked to EXPLICITLY excludes losses due to material misrepresentation.  It covers certain very limited forms of internet fraud.  Period.  That’s it.  They even call it a “Basic” guarantee, implying it doesn’t cover much.

    HomeAway offers an optional added-cost “Carefree Rental Guarantee” that DOES cover material misrepresentation.  If you don’t buy it, HomeAway is just as liable as a newspaper running a classified ad.  Which is to say not at all.

    I don’t know why so many people have a problem understanding this.

  • Rachel

    I think it would behoove VRBO to get involved in cases like this if only because all this bad publicity must be costing it new customers.  I’ve never used the service, but had considered doing so for a few upcoming trips.  After reading here about all the troubles renters have had with the service and the complete and utter lack of support whatsoever from VRBO, I think I will just stick with a hotel.  It seems there are very few protections or redress offered to renters using the service. 

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Chris, your final comment about not renting from people who don’t accept credit cards bothers me.  I’ve stayed at many B&Bs that only take cash or checks, since they’re too small to deal with credit cards.  I don’t think that Ms. Wood made a mistake sending a check.  She might have looked at the reviews before sending money, but sending a check to a legitimate person for a real transaction (not a 419 scheme) isn’t a mistake.

  • NakinaAce

    I own seven properties in three different countries and use both VRBO and FlipKey (TripAdvisor). VRBO does a reasonably good job in my view in vetting the owners or managers but there is little they can do to prevent outright fraud which is what this appears to have been.
    These companies are simply advertisers operating a clearing house and their only motive is profit. FlipKey in particular really don’t give a fig about either the owners or the renters. I think VRBO tries to do a good job for both the renter and the owner but frankly it is impossible to please everyone all the time.
    Common sense, as they say, is the least common of the senses but you can do some things to protect yourself in these circumstances by just being careful. Know who you are sending the money to (and I would always use a credit card and never PayPal as they are the biggest crooks going). Engage in an email exchange and ask for a reference. Check the reviews and email the reviewers?
    Just use your common sense, if you have any!

  • MarkKelling

    I have stayed in those type of places too, but I didn’t pay until I was there.  Also, a B&B is different than renting a property where the owner is not staying there.

  • john4868

    @Jeanne_in_NE:disqus I own a small business. Anymore there isn’t a legit business that’s “too small to deal with credit cards.” It pretty easy to setup an account through Paypal etc to accept credit cards. What the business is really saying is that they don’t want to pay the fees and risk associated with accepting CC. Its cheaper for them to accept checks and risk the occasional bounced check than pay Visa etc their processing fees and get burned for the occasional guest that starts a chargeback.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    I live a few hours south of Williams and know this is probably one of the smallest towns you’ll ever run into.  I did a story on a business there for AAA and, trust me, everyone knows everyone.  They also might want to get involved to help.  I can’t help but feel a pointed letter to the Chamber explaining the situation “as a warning to other potential tourists” would do WORLDS to resolve this.

    I would suggest the OP contact both the Williams police AND the Williams Chamber for help with this.  The police probably don’t have much to do anyway and the Chamber definitely wouldn’t want someone like this representing their city.  I’ve worked with them in the past and this is a truly caring group of people.  They wouldn’t take lightly their tourism getting a black eye over this.

  • Elmo Clarity

    PayPal can be a joke in getting refunds.  I had a product I paid for through PayPal that included insurance.  The item arrived busted (looked like someone drove over the box) but there was no evidence of insurance on the postage.  The seller claimed they were self insured and the insurance only covered it getting there, not getting there safely.  The fact that I got the flattened box means it made it so no insurance.  PayPal sided with this seller.  Luckily, I paid via a credit card and the card issuer didn’t agree with PayPal and gave me my money back.

    If you are going to use PayPal, ALWAYS make the payment from a credit card and not from a bank transfer.  You get better protection that way.

  • Elmo Clarity

    Anyone can accept credit cards these days.  Intuit offers a free credit card reader for you Android/iPhone phone that allows you to accept credit cards.  As John Baker mentions, any business these days not willing to take credit cards just don’t want to pay the fees associated with it.  Personally, I wouldn’t rent any place sight unseen like this without using a credit card just for the security from problems like this.

  • Karen Kinnane

    This one’s easy because the perpetrator has property and an address!  First send a certified letter to the owner with copy of the check and  the listing mentioning three bedrooms, any correspondance where you mention renting because of the three bedrooms,  and request  a refund in full within ten days of when the letter was sent.  Mention that using the USPS to commit fraud (your check was sent vial the USPS) is a Federal felony which can bring jail time and that in eleven days you are going to file a formal fraud claim with the USPS.  Then if you have not received your money in full, eleven days later you contact the USPS and arrange a meeting with one of those nice US Postal Inspectors.  One call from him will most likely shake loose the deposit and if not you make a formal complaint for fraud and have the person arrested for Postal fraud, you can have fun with this.  It won’t cost you anything but a bit of time.
    Next time, pay with credit card, and you can fight it that way, or paypal.

  • MikeInCtown

    I don’t know how long ago this happened, but Paypal now in MANY cases, if not most sides with the buyer when something is misrepresented. I know in the past they weren’t much help with anything, but since they have become the go to payment system for more than just eBay, things have changed.

  • MikeInCtown

    I agree. Even the most basic person can accept Paypal. It takes a few minutes to set up an account.If someone is worried about paying 3% on a $850 transaction, then perhaps they need to rethink what they are charging for the rental. In the end, it needs to be reported as income to the IRS anyway, so the 3% would be a deduction in income to pay taxes on.

  • Joe_D_Messina

     I recently purchased something online from somebody who wanted a check and didn’t take Pay Pal and  I nearly pulled out of the deal because it just felt a little shady. It was a pretty small amount so I went through with it and things turned out fine, but if you want to be taken seriously you’ve got to accept credit cards in some form or another. It’s like not having a website–you don’t look reputable without it.

  • danamman

    I get frustrated at the manner of your verbal pussy-footing over this kind of thing, Mr. Elliott. They false advertised, would not return the deposit based on an outright scam, that’s larceny, theft, call it what you will. It makes them all a bunch of low-life dirt bags and VRBO/HomeAway can go pound sand. Don’t use them – hope they get taken down by the Feds and then totally fail. The way you make it sound it’s the consumer at fault – for writing a check? Blow me down! Grow a pair.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Chris, is there any chance of getting the link to this property listed so we can see the reviews complaining about the missing bedroom?

    If the owner lied on his listing, then VRBO absolutely should help the OP out. I use VRBO frequently and have never had a problem. If I start thinking they aren’t policing their members, I will have to rethink using them.  BTW, I only rent from places where there are numerous reviews posted. VRBO owners have the option of not displaying reviews and I always ignore those listings because that seems like they’re trying to hide something.  If this owner was actively scamming, it makes me wonder why they didn’t just turn the review feature off.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    The listing number on VRBO is #259047.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I’m confused. Where did I say it was the consumer’s fault?

  • Emanuel Levy

     Can you provide a direct link? I’m having a problem finding that listing #

  • TonyA_says

    Even if the county or municipality does not have an online site (rare), realtor dotcom and trulia will most likely have the prior transaction history of the home and a complete description of the neighborhood plus the house. Some genius (seriously speaking) needs to use the currently available tax and real estate databases out there to help consumers avoid scams like this.

  • y_p_w

    I think it was the Internet Crime Complaint Center, which is a joint project of the FBI and some private organization.  Part of the problem most people have is that they might not know who is responsible, and the feds will sort out who the proper local authorities are and contact them.  Sometimes it gets complex when it’s across state lines.


  • TonyA_says


  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HMW3OTJSBDWWRKIEKEKWWM7BEA bc

    I disagree, claiming your property is bigger or has more amenities than it actually does or claiming to offer a deposit refund and not providing one is just as much a scam as listing a fake property. They’re both advertising something with the intent to deceive. This property owner is no better than a craigslist scammer in my opinion. I think that VRBO should be responsible in both cases.

    If VRBO or any company wanted to make a real killing, they would provide this service as well as handle the money, IN ESCROW, so both parties are protected. Of course this would mean higher fees but I think customers would flock to a company with more protection.

    I do agree that this is something that VRBOs guarantee should have covered but yet again it turns out to be utterly worthless.

  • Alexandra Webster-Schuler

    I have used VRBO/HA for several vacations. Most have been good, although I made some mistakes when I started, and wound up in some not great places.

    Not ONE of the owners was able to take credit cards or even PayPal. If you limited your criteria to that, you would have slim pickings for rentals in most places.

    I am shocked that VRBO dismissed this renter outright, and I am reevaluating my personal use of them. (and I sent them an email with this link for kicks to see if they would respond)

    I do like the idea of the USPS mail fraud…. certainly an avenue to pursue. 

  • SoBeSparky

    And that is why I said, “not paypal.”  We know Amex, VISA, MC and others have well known protocols for charge reversals.  Paypal in an evolving matter.  Who do you think has more volume leverage with a vendor, VISA or paypal?  

  • TonyA_says

     Looks like these are more pics of the house

  • john4868

    Looks like its down to me Chris. Doesn’t pull up on their site at all

  • SooZeeeQ

    Who CAN we trust these days?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HMW3OTJSBDWWRKIEKEKWWM7BEA bc

    There’s no such thing as “too small to accept credit cards” anymore. There are $10 card readers that plugs into smart phones that allows me to scan and accept credit cards. There’s no monthly fees and you pay a small percentage to the card processor. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HMW3OTJSBDWWRKIEKEKWWM7BEA bc

    Maybe you can help by standing outside the property and making a huge scene and let all the neighbor know. I mean, what works on a cruise ship could work here too! 

  • ExplorationTravMag

    Wow, do you wake up like this, a total jerk, or is this something that gets larger as the day wears on?  

  • Lindabator

    If you are the intermediary, and the clinet did everything CORRECT (no wires, please!), then they SHOULD be standing behind their word, or they ARE just another Craig’s list. 

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    “And customers like Wood? They need to stop renting from anyone who doesn’t accept credit cards.”

    See my earlier comment, on the same subject, but phrased a little more nicely.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    This is me blaming the consumer: “This is all Wood’s fault.”
    This is me offering her advice: “Next time, use your credit card.”

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Thank you to all the nice people who pointed out that there is no such thing as “too small to accept credit cards” these days.  I had no idea that really small businesses could accept credit cards so cheaply.  I’m going to guess that the same folks I do/have done business with only by check also had no idea.  That’s the point of forums such as this: to educate those of us new to emerging technology. when it comes to travel. 

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Thanks for posting that, Chris.  

    This puts this matter in a new light for me. First off, the OP’s story doesn’t seem to be 100% accurate because there’s a review from back in 2010 clearly describing how the debated bedroom area is a single large room broken up into multiple sleeping areas. (It must be huge because there’s a ping pong table and other things in the area, as well.) It sounds like they put a deposit down on the place without reading the reviews carefully. That’s a very risky move. That doesn’t mean a “fully refundable” deposit shouldn’t be returned to them, but it doesn’t sound like an outright scam, either.  

  • TonyA_says

     Jeanne, it does cost money for the vendor (aka merchant). First of all they have to qualify as a merchant (to the Service Provider).  Then for rentals like this, the merchant will be doing CARD NOT PRESENT transactions (most probably keying in the card number in the Servicer’s website). The merchant will easily pay a minimum of 3.5-4% plus a fixed fee for each transaction. That will eat up the merchant’s profit. The fee will be much less if the merchant can actually scan the credit card (less fraud).

  • bodega3

    In our business we alway recommend the use of a credit card.

    I do have a question.  Did they provide you with pictures of the house?  According to the VRBO and other listings on the net, this property has 3 bedrooms and a loft filled with several beds.  It would have helped in seeing the OP’s pictures for comparison to the online photos to know if the house shown online is the same one she rented.

  • TonyA_says

    Chris, in the reviews posted in VRBO’s site,   http://www.vrbo.com/259047/reviews     at least 2 customers (who stayed in 2010) complained that this house has only 2 bedrooms (and not 3 as posted by the owner). Seems to be VRBO does not bother to read the reviews to correct the postings.

  • http://gspirits.com/ Zod

    In much the same say Craig’s List is being required to vet their listings, I believe that  these rental by owner sites need to vet their listings as well…

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I saw that, as well. However, that also means the OP didn’t bother to read the reviews because they claimed there was no mention of that in reviews until after they’d sent the deposit “last year.”  I’m not a fan of letters misrepresenting the facts.

    Bottom line is that if the deposit was supposed to be refundable, they should get it back and VRBO should help with that.  The bedroom issue I’m willing to give a bit of slack because a large area cordoned off into separate sleeping areas and being called “2 bedrooms” is not nearly as bad as if they were outright lying and there actually was only one sleeping area. 

  • judyserienagy

    If HomeAway and VRBO claim no responsibility to the renter who is renting on THEIR website, they should be put out of business.  It’s ridiculous to allow this kind of fraud to go on … everyone knows that the cheated renter will eventually go away … so the game goes on. 

  • TonyA_says

    True the OP didn’t do their homework or did any due diligence except rely on the veracity of the posting. I can see that as important if the OP were to BUY this house. But to rent a place for a week, it should be reasonable to simply rely on a posting. It really should be no different that getting a hotel room or suite. There has to be some acceptable level of honesty, i.e. the real # of bedrooms. A loft or greatroom without a door and closet is not legally considered a bedroom.

    The home owner should have returned the OP’s money asap since the OP was expecting to rent 3 rooms and the owner’s rental does not have 3 rooms as they had posted:

    2700 + square foot 2 story log cabin.
    Full size kitchen, 2 bathrooms with 1 tub and a custom slate master
    double shower.  3 bedrooms plus loft with queen bed. 3 queens and 1 king
    upstairs, 2 sets of bunk beds for the kids,1 queen downstairs and 2 car

    They lied (according to the OP).

  • rybashka

    Believe it or not, the renter has a fair amount of power in a situation like this.  The renter can go to her local small claims court and, because of the distance, the owner is unlikely to show up.  The renter then has a judgment that can be filed in Arizona.  

    She has a cancelled check so she knows the name of the bank where the owner keeps his money.  Unless he has closed the account, that money can be attached.  (Ideally, the bank has local branches in her state.)  If necessary, she can file a lien on the property, which may hinder the property from being sold or refinanced until she is paid off.  In the meantime, the interest on her judgment continues to accumulate.
    It is possible that the owner might try to contest the judgment when the renter tries to enforce it in Arizona.  However, unless he has access to free legal help, it will not be cost-effective to fight an $839 judgment.

    Admittedly, the renter might be throwing good money after bad.  However, given that she has contacted the FBI, it seems that a fair amount of emotion is involved here.  It might be worth it to her to see how far she can get with this.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I really hate beating this horse, but!  You’ve posted enough stories on your blog about people who have used their credit cards and *still* had problems.  I agree that a credit card transaction provides a layer of protection that a check doesn’t provide.  However, there are still people in this world who don’t take credit cards, or who don’t pay by credit card, each for a multitude of reasons.  The wording of your advice, “people like Wood”, struck me as blaming Ms. Wood for being naïve.  Your post does clarify your intent, so I apologize for my misinterpretation of your words.     

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/2NZAJ6KPWUWJV23TTE3TNBMJZI Trudi

    Hi, I’m Trudi Wood. I’d like to clarify that when we sent earnest money to hold this Williams home there was only one review posted and there was no mention of only two bedrooms; it specifically said 3 bedrooms. To me that meant a room with a door – not a game room with a ping pong table. After the owner’s divorce she changed the posting. However, I have written proof of a guaranteed refund, but a guarntee on the Internet is only as good as the paper on which it’s printed. Please understand that I really like the concept of HomeAway and VRBO. I have rented 9 homes/condos from them, and I will continue to use their service – with caution and no trust in their assitance beyond a listing. I’m much wiser and at the tune of $839, I’ve learned an expensive lesson. I just wish they’d at least tried to help me get my promised refund….. Many thanks to Chris for listening because no one else seemed to care at all.

  • Daves

    Your own due diligence, albeit it’s not always sufficient.

  • Crissy

    I can understand VRBO and Home Away not wanting to get involved with disputes, in terms of you can get a lot of little petty disputes where either no one is right (or wrong) or of such a small scale – it costs time and money.

    However, if someone is misrepresenting a property on your website, you have an ABSOLUTE duty to take action, if for no other reason then to protect your companies name.  I’m sure somewhere in the fine print of the contract to post a home/apt there is something about misrepresenting.  Once VRBO knows about the issue they should pull the the unit off their site and contact anyone who is in the process of renting the unit to see if they still want it and to facilitate a return of what they have paid.  

    Having said that, I do think the unit owner should be allowed 24-48 hours to show that the unit is as advertised, to prevent people from making complaints just to screw the owner or get a free trip.

  • lorcha

    Nothing VRBO can do?

    How about this:

    Dear Property Owner,

    Your listing in VRBO for 123 Main St. has been deleted, and future listings for 123 Main St. will not be accepted. 

    This action was taken due to several customers’ complaints that your listing materially misrepresented the property advertised. Specifically, your listing advertises the unit has having 3 bedrooms, however, several customers have complained that the unit contains only 2 bedrooms. 

    We take accusations of misrepresentation extremely seriously, as the integrity of the VRBO brand depends on it. The reason that you have received so much business from VRBO is testament to our branding efforts. 

    We recognize that, from time to time, false allegations can be submitted. If you wish to appeal this decision, please order, at your cost and expense, an appraisal of the property by a licensed appraiser in your property’s state which shows that the unit has 3 bedrooms, as originally advertised. 

    Best Regards,

    I’m willing to bet that after they send out a few of those letters, owners will have far fewer “typos” in their listings.

  • Chris Romm

    VBRO seems to want it both ways and get it as well. I rented a unit in Maine last year after finding a place in VBRO. All seemed well until we arrived. The place was much smaller than we had anticipated. WE should have known as we had contact from the owner but they were sort of cold and unwelcoming. The place was FILTHY. Besides not being as clean as we expected. the main bedroom has a bed that had blood stains on it. This was not murder type blood stains if you catch my drift, When we contacted the owners they had no response and VBRO also had no response to my attempts to email and call them. I made many attempts to contact the owner and they never bothered to return my emails or phone messages. This is a buyer beware world. You get what you get. Being exceptionally careful is the only thing you can do. I was going to contact Chris on this one but i knew it would be a waste of his time as well. My issue was at Point Sebago in Maine. All i can say is be very aware.

  • Pamela Bonaventura

    I’m a rental owner from Europe; I list on HomeAway.  My small vacation apartment is only for two people and while I fully understand that paying by PayPal or credit card gives the potential guests the assurance they are looking for, I do not accept credit cards or have a PP account as it’s too expensive for my small place & income.  I ask for wir transfers but should the guest prefer to pay by cash on arrival this is also OK with me.
    I am so sorry this had to happen, sadly it does, but please do not place us all in the same boat.  I am proud of the service, albeit on a small scale, that I offer my guests.

  • Raven_Altosk

    PayPal does not cost you. You can pass the fees onto your renters. Only scammers demand wire transfers.