I was recently serching for a a beach house to rent for a week long summer vacation. I had two things working against me. First, I wanted it for the week of July 4th and second, I did not even start looking until mid May. Like thousands of other people I searched VRBO.com.
VRBO.com is one of the leading websites for finding places to rent for vacations or other occasions. VRBO is actually a HomeAway company. HomeAway, Inc., based in Austin, Texas, is the world’s leading online marketplace of vacation rentals, with sites representing approximately 700,000 paid vacation rental home listings throughout 168 countries. HomeAway® offers an extensive selection of vacation homes that provide travelers with memorable experiences and benefits, especially more room to relax, for less than the cost of traditional hotel accommodations. The company also makes it easy for vacation rental owners and property managers to advertise their properties and manage bookings online. One would think that a longstanding company like HomeAway would take every precaution to prevent any of their websites from being hacked, but it appears that this is not the case.
After an extensive search I found a great property for a great price and the dates I wanted were available, or at least the website said it was. On the page listing the property was a form to fill out to contact the owner. I filled it out asking them to comfirm the date and let me know what I needed to do to book the house. Within the hour I was contacted confirming the house was available and f even offered me a 10% discount to pay in full. I responded to the email saying I was ready to pay. Again, wtin a few minutes I received and email stating they would draw up a contract and send me Bank Transfer instructions.
The next morning I got an email from VRBO. This is part of the email;
Website: VRBO.com, Listing number: 167880
Description: “Beach House W/ Gulf Front View & Private Hot Tubs! Gulf Shores AL ”
Property phone: (800) 210-7914
You recently sent an inquiry for the property referenced above. First, thank you for using our site. Unfortunately, we have reason to believe that the owner or property manager may have unknowingly and inadvertently had their email account compromised…..
I manage to find the phone number of the owner of the rental and called. I was told that they had no record of my inquiry and that the rental was not available. I was fortunate that I got the email from VRBO before I got the contract from the hacker. I wouyld have lost $4,050.00 and possibly more.
VRBO and HomeAway should not allow their sites to be hacked. Property owners pay them to list their properties and they have a responsibility to ensure hacking does not happen. The bad news is after researching this issue on the internet I found this has been happening for almost a year and VRBO has not fixed this issue.
Some Advice from Tastesliketravel.com when booking on VRBO.com or HomeAway.com:
- Most owners have listings on their own site or other rental sites. Check those against VRBO to see if the availability matches.
- Beware of gmail or hotmail email addresses from the owner.
- Confirm by phone with the owner before you pay.
- Be wary of properties that don’t take credit cards or offer discounts for bank transfers.
There are a lot of scams out there. Use a little common sense and don’t get taken. It can turn a vacation into a costly nightmare.
Editors Note: This article was written over 2 years ago. I am pretty sure this issue has been addressed as every legitimate business takes hacking seriously. VRBO Is a good company.