Press-Republican

February 4, 2013

Locals warned of Internet vacation-rental scams

By FELICIA KRIEG
Press-Republican

---- — RAY BROOK — A Peru resident realized she was a victim of an Internet scam, police said.

She called State Police, and the Ray Brook-based State Police Computer Crime Unit investigated.

It turned out that an overseas conman was using the legitimate vacation site VRBO, which is owned by HomeAway Vacation Rentrals, as an outlet for crime, police said.

The scammer posed as the owner of a three-bedroom, three-bathroom condominium with ocean views on the sixth floor of the Brighton Tower high-rise in Myrtle Beach, police said. That property was actually available; the phisher simply posted it with his own gmail contact email address on the VRBO website and was communicating with the Peru woman.

INSTANT TRANSACTIONS

The Crime Unit used a worldwide registry to track the location of the computer used for the communication through its IP address.

The Peru woman had been cautious about committing to the rental and did a little research on her own, a police investigator said. She discovered the contact information didn’t jibe and so ended the transaction before paying any money.

But many others may have fallen victim to such scams, police said.

“A lot of the people from the North Country go to Myrtle Beach or Florida on spring break,” the investigator said, advising caution when arranging lodgings online.

Scammers both domestic and foreign will often ask renters to wire money to them via money grams or Western Union money transfer, he said.

The cash transaction is instant, which gives the unsuspecting renters no reaction time once they realized they have been scammed.

RENTAL GUARANTEE

At the top of VRBO’s webpage is a link to a description of the site’s “rental guarantee.”

The guarantee comes at an additional cost, starting at $39, and, according to the site, covers the renters if the rental property is foreclosed on or in bankruptcy; the owner inadvertently double-books the property; the owner wrongfully withholds the security deposit; the property is misrepresented; or if the renter is a victim of Internet fraud, including phishing.

However, the protection against Internet fraud does not cover renters who pay with cash, a check made out to cash or money wired through Western Union or money gram, police said.

And while those who pay with a credit card can dispute the charge with the card company if they are the victim of a scam, there is little hope of recovering money that is sent directly to someone through money transfer, police said.

The Peru woman who reported the scam to police wanted to spread the word so people wouldn’t fall victim to Internet fraud, the investigator said.

Email Felicia Krieg: fkrieg@pressrepublican.com