Here on SiestaKeyBeachRentals.com we try to keep our visitors informed concerning all matters here on Siesta Key This is VERY SERIOUS - PLEASE READ IT ALL and perhaps save yourself THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS!
Sorry to say that you renters better start being very cautious when renting Vacation Rentals on the Internet!
As you know, FLIPKEY and VRBO are two very important Internet Sites where renters often find their best selection of Vacation Rentals. Unfortunately, recently both of these sites are being seriously hacked and some renters have lost thousands of dollars falling for these frauds.
(1). YOU the innocent traveler visit these sites on-line and search for a Vacation rental.
(2). YOU find a rental you are interested in and fill out the email form on Flipkey or VRBO to email the owner requesting more information. (Your email is supposedly encrypted to prevent scammers from getting it - but this doesn't seem to be stopping them)!
(3). The SCAMMER intercepts (hijacks!) your email (he somehow gets a copy of it - I do not yet know exactly how they get a copy of your email request) - (and it appears that neither FLIPKEY or VRBO know either - because they do not seem to be able to prevent it)!
(4). The SCAMMER immediately sends YOU a fake reply - (Note that at this point, the actual Owner /or/ actual Rental Agent who legally represents this rental - HAS NOT RECEIVED YOUR EMAIL REQUEST! (And may never receive it). So the Owner has no way of knowing that some criminal is falsely representing him!
(5). The fake email YOU receive from the scammer will appear very formal and genuine, it also may include a DISCOUNT to help get you to quickly send money! Here is an actual example: (NOTE: I own and rent unit #308 in Crystal Sands on SK, one of my potential clients received this fake reply):
The (above) email is an actual reply sent to a renter (who was SMART ENOUGH) to realize it is fake and to call them on it!
Here are some things to notice about the above fake reply - note at the top there is an (underlined) link to my Flipkey ad - yes that link works - if the receiver of this email clicks on it - it will display my FLIPKEY ad - but this is not a big deal, if you know the slightest thing about how to put a link into an email - this means nothing (except of course by including it in the email reply, it helps make the email seem genuine.
Notice that there is no Sales Tax - and notice that WONDERFUL Cancellation 100% refundable! That is truly GREAT - in fact it is unbelievable! (There's another clue)!
Notice that it is from a no-name "Property Manager" - (Why not the Property Owner who displays the ad on Flipkey? (That's a major clue). But usually a fake name will be included - actually my renter entered a conversation with these crooks and got another reply from them that has more clues:
I love that initial sentence - "Please find attached the booking sheet" - REALLY - What grade school did this a-hole ("Andrew Okara") attend? - Most of us would expect it to read - "Please find the attached booking sheet".
Now it gets really interesting, these CROOKS are really working hard to steal your money - notice that our friend Andrew is an executive in a booking agency who's website is www.holidaysrvs.comThat leaves 2 possibilities, either this scammer is hijacking poor Andrew's name and website and pretending to be him, OR these guys actually went to all the trouble to create a totally FAKE (but very real looking) website to back up their phony email money requests!
Think about it. If I received this email request and had any doubt as to if it was authentic, the first thing I would do (actually I always do this), is go to their website and see what the business is all about. (Actually see if the website is also phony, and or if this Andrew guys works there).
So is Holidays RVS a real business? (Or a phony front created to add authenticity to their email address? I visited the website and looked under "About Us", and found our guy Andrew:
(UPDATE 2016 If you try to visit this website now you will find it doesn't exist anymore - which proves that it was likely a FAKE website back in 2014 when they were pulling this FRAUD!)
Notice what they say about our boy Andrew, "Andrew joined the Company 10 years ago upon graduating from Queen's University. Following a period of time away bringing up her family, she re-joined three years ago ensuring that the long term management of clients is of paramount importance" - humm - trying to figure out what gender our guy Andrew is? (Also the other guy Calvin Baker sems to have gender problems as well - wonder if these guys were actual excutives in a REAL company they wouldn't notice this?.
I'll likely never know all of the details in this one scamming incident, but here are FLIPKEY'S RECOMMENDATIONS:
Be Aware of Suspicious Behavior, Including:
* Bad grammar in emails from English-speaking countries. While a typo here and there can be forgiven, vacation rental owners are professionals, and you should never receive emails that are riddled with poor grammar.
* Sending money to a third party. If you are asked to send money to a third party, especially in another country, then be very cautious and make sure you use a secure form of payment (see next point).
* Using unsecure payment methods. Never wire funds via instant wire services such as Western Union or Moneygram. Instead, you should try to pay by credit card or PayPal as those methods offer more protection and are much less likely to be used by fraudsters. In Europe, bank transfers are quite common but are much less common in the United States.
* Dates that don't match up. Make sure that the dates are consistent throughout your communications, and that the manager has reserved the dates you requested.
* Uncertainty about the unit. Similarly, make sure that you and the property manager both reference the correct unit.
Our Advice is NEVER DO BANK TRANSFERS!. I am aware that Europeans may like to use direct bank transfers but I personally do not do them under any circumstances - I have lost rentals over this because they want me to provide them my banking information AND I DON'T THINK THAT IS A SAFE PRACTICE.
There is NO HURRY! Don't send money for any rental too quickly
Send multiple email inquires to owners you find on Flipkey and VRBO - (so that if the initial email gets hijacked, maybe the 2nd one will make it to the actual owner)!
Be Skeptical (Actually this is excellent way to behave in your whole life!)!
Be SMART - use your head. If you are renting a unit in Florida, why would you be asked to send money to Europe. Really be careful of (sorry) the UK or Africa MONEY requests!
Establish a dialog with the Owner (By phone and email) - when the Owner replies to your email - from then on - DO NOT keep contacting her/him through Flipkey or VRBO, but send emails directly to the owners actual email address!
Totally avoid Bank Transfers, wire transfers, Western Union, or any payment method where you have no recourse.
Consider booking through our local Owners and their local Agents - they are all REAL, you can verify their REAL EXISTANCE by many ways including look up their phone numbers in a Sarasota Florida Phone Book and call them directly - or - do Google searches on their business name and see all the information you can gather on them.
This is a very small island, (only about 8 miles long). Many owners who advertise here are very well known on Siesta Key (Ask for references if in doubt)! or check out the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, and you'll likely find the same owners/agents advertise there also: