Email scam hits local lodging company
VAIL — Dale Bugby made an unsettling discovery a few days ago.
Bugby, the owner of Vail Resort Rentals, discovered that someone had apparently gotten into the middle of email communications between his company and as many as three potential guests. Whoever got into the emails sent the potential client an offer of a sizable discount if the guest would do a bank-to-bank transfer of funds with the recipient bank in England.
The unit in question was listed on the Internet with Vacation Rentals By Owner, or VRBO. While a VRBO representative emailed Bugby that the problem might be with his company’s email servers, Bugby doesn’t believe that’s what happened. Instead, Bugby believes that the hack came in VRBO’s system.
An email query about the situation from the Vail Daily to the VRBO representative Bugby was communicating with wasn’t answered.
This particular hack, in which a scammer is able to intercept emails between a company and a client, seems unique to Bugby’s company, at least locally. Chris Romer, CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, which handles much of the valley’s reservation traffic, said he hadn’t heard any reports of anything similar.
But vacation rental scams are nothing new. In late 2014, a property management company in Breckenridge had information about dozens of vacation rental units copied from VRBO and put on Craigslist, a site Bugby said is well known for problems with vacation rentals.
Bugby has changed his system passwords. He also went to the VRBO listing that created the problem without trouble — “They were on and off quickly,” he said — but he’s still concerned.
“If a hacker can go to a listing and divert 72 hours worth of business, that’s troubling,” Bugby said.
While Bugby’s email correspondence with the VRBO representative was inconclusive, Bugby said he hopes there’s an awareness of the problem within the listing company.
“You’ve got to hope that VRBO is trying to protect its photos and transactions,” he said.
Be a savvy traveler
So far, no one has shown up at the Vail Resort Rentals office looking for keys to a unit that hasn’t actually been rented.
“Any savvy traveler will pay by credit card,” he said.
Still, it just takes one or two scam victims and some sour online reviews to create trouble for a business.
Romer said the way the Internet works makes it inevitable that scammers will keep trying to separate unsuspecting customers from their money.
“Our reliance on technology is a weakness,” Romer said. “It really requires all of us to be diligent.
That diligence means that both rental companies and guests need to pay close attention to their on-line transactions. That can catch problems before they become big and hard to manage, he said.
Matt Ivy, the general manager at the Vail Racquet Club, agreed. Some individual owners at the Racquet Club use VRBO, as does the homeowners association, Ivy said. All those parties have been encouraged to change their passwords.
No one at the Racquet Club has yet fallen prey to the scam attempt that hit Vail Resort Rentals, but Ivy said the club has had one instance of a unit being fraudulently listed on Craigslist.
Romer and Ivy provided several tips for both managers and clients to ensure business transactions stay legitimate:
• Always pay with a credit card.
• The promise of a discount for a bank-to-bank transfer — especially to a bank in another country — should be a clear warning.
• If you have any suspicions, a phone call to the renter should clear up any questions.
But Bugby has some questions for VRBO and believes potential renters should, too, particularly whether or not that company’s guarantees apply to hacked transactions, and how quickly the company will reimburse a guest.
“Somebody’s going to fall for this (scam) somewhere,” Bugby said. “And you only need one out of 100 tries to make a lot of money.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com or @scottnmiller.