Another HomeAway phishing case prompts more questions about new fees

By | March 16th, 2016

This shouldn’t have happened to JoAnne Hemsley’s daughter, Daniella. Not with the recent changes HomeAway made to protect users from phishing attacks.

But it did.

Hemsley’s daughter rented a home in Napa, Calif., during the Memorial Day weekend. Stop me if you’ve already heard this story: Daniella wired money to someone who pretended to be the owner; turns out the real owner’s account had been hacked.

Now she has no rental and the money is gone.

“I am just looking to be made whole after this huge mess,” she says.

Her daughter lost $2,300. She may receive a partial refund of up to $1,000 under its “carefree” guarantee, but that hasn’t been decided yet.

She wants all of her money back, and why shouldn’t she get it? She believed she was booking through a trusted site. Instead, she wired money to a scammer.

This is not a new story. I’ve covered the phishing problem since 2011. It’s a recurring theme on this site.

What is new? HomeAway, freshly acquired by Expedia, has added a controversial new booking fee that promises, among other things, that “travelers who book or pay directly through HomeAway’s sites will have the full amount of their booking protected against things like misrepresented or double-booked properties.”

That would suggest Hemsley’s daughter should have been “protected” against a fake owner. Or does it?

Well, we don’t know yet. I’ve contacted HomeAway to find out, I’ve asked Hemsley for a paper trail, and we’re still waiting on the results of HomeAway’s investigation.

Maybe I’m reading the new HomeAway commitment the wrong way. But even if I am, I would expect that if I’m paying between 4 and 10 percent based on the total amount of the rental, but not to exceed $499, that HomeAway would stand behind its product and refund any money I’d spent on a rental I found through its site.

Related story:   3 secrets to avoiding a vacation rental scam

Perhaps that’s naive. I anticipate a site like HomeAway, or any other site dealing in vacation rentals, will tell me that it’s nothing more than a platform that handles transactions between a vacation rental owner and a consumer. Kind of like Craigslist, only more expensive and with fewer scams.

I’m not making that up. Those are the actual words used by executives when I asked them about their business, and in particular when I confronted them about the phishing problem.

But if these sites are just glorified online classifieds, then please also stop referring to your rentals as “carefree” and positioning yourself as a trusted intermediary.

I still have high hopes that this case can be resolved to Hemsley’s satisfaction, and that, indeed, this was nothing more than a misunderstanding between her and HomeAway.

We shall see.

Should I advocate for JoAnne Hemsley and her daughter?

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Update (3/17): HomeAway has responded.

The booking fee is not an insurance product. The funds from the fee are not solely used for our Book with Confidence Guarantee, but are also invested in things like marketing and improvements to the site. You can read more about the new guarantee product here:

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