We Were Scammed On VRBO {Here’s How}

We Were Scammed On VRBO {Here’s How}

About a year ago, I began planning a fortieth birthday trip for my husband and myself. Our birthdays are only six days apart, and only a month and 3 days away from our children’s birthdays. This also happens to fall just one month after Christmas. Needless to say, it’s a busy (and expensive) time for our family. So, my husband and I typically don’t do more than a nice dinner to celebrate our birthdays. But, you only turn forty once, so I wanted this birthday to be special, so I began planning a ski trip.

We have a small, albeit wonderful group of friends, and thankfully they were willing to come celebrate with us. After some consideration, we decided on Park City, UT as it was close to the airport and didn’t require us to rent a car. Once we had the location, I began looking for condos to rent. I didn’t have to search long to find some worthy options on VRBO.

We’re Going To Utah!

I sent the top three options to our group of seven, and we all voted on the one we felt would best suit our needs. The condo had great reviews, enough space to accommodate all of us, ski in/ski out access, and a free shuttle to Main Street, where all the restaurants and shops are. Most importantly, the price was reasonable. The condo did require a refundable security deposit, which I did not find strange at the time as I have rented condos before who required this. So, I paid the deposit, including a portion of the overall cost, and voila, our condo was booked for the trip. The remainder of the payment would be due about one or two months before the trip, which was also the latest we could cancel if we needed to. I sent the confirmation details to the group and didn’t think much more about it.

In November, I received an email informing me that the rest of my remaining balance was due. I used the link to pay, and immediately received an email conforming my reservation. The trip was now only two months away, so we were all excited. Roughly 48 hours before our established check in time, I received an email with “check in instructions.” At the time, the email seemed legit. It came directly from VRBO, appeared to have all the information we needed, the condo address, a listed check in time, code for the exterior of the building, and a link for the code to the actual unit. Admittedly, I should have looked at the email more closely, and clicked the link to the actual condo access code, but in my hurried preparations for the trip I did not. I simply forwarded the email to our group and went about my packing.

Panic Sets In

The day of departure, we had about a four-hour layover in Denver. This is when I finally reviewed the “check in” email thoroughly. It was at this point I noticed the link to access the condo code did not work. No big deal, I’d just message the host on the VRBO app. It wasn’t until 45 minutes went by without any response from the host that I began to panic. I quickly called VRBO customer service while my friend tried to contact the property management directly. My panic only intensified when VRBO also could not contact the condo host. What were we going to do? Our next flight was boarding in five minutes, and we hadn’t gotten a clear answer from VRBO. I was REALLY beginning to panic. Thankfully, that’s when my friend Rachel informed me that the local property manager had provided her with a code to access our unit, and given Rachel her direct contact number in case we had any issues upon arrival. Crisis averted! … Or so we thought.

This Can’t Be Happening

After a LONG travel day, a 45 minute Uber ride, and a late night with the time difference, we finally reached our destination. We quickly punched the access code into the lock box for our unit and … nothing. No big deal, maybe we punched the wrong keys. We tried again, still nothing. We tried other various combinations of the code, and still nothing. We called the local property manager. She was as confused as we were. It wasn’t until the actual owner of the unit (who lives there full time), came to the door and threatened to call the police that we realized we had been scammed.

Our whole group was devastated. We were exhausted, hungry, grumpy for the travel, and now felt stranded. While the local property manager was sympathetic to our plight, she informed us that security had been called and we had to vacate the premises. VRBO unfortunately was little help in the moment. While they assured me I would receive a full refund for the fraudulent booking, they would be of no assistance in finding us a new unit. We were on our own. So, we all began calling local hotels, hoping to find two rooms for the night, and we would regroup on the morning.

Light At The End Of The Tunnel

Ultimately, we found two hotel rooms for the night, and the next morning we were able to find a new condo through VRBO. The unit we found ended up being a better price, better location, and most importantly, available. The hotel we stayed in for the first night was kind enough to let us store our luggage after check out so we didn’t miss a day of skiing, and we checked into our new condo that evening. The concierge at the hotel told us that they see this a lot. He said it is more often with Air BnB, but occasionally with VRBO as well. He said that scammers find units that do exist but are not up for rent, pull pictures from the internet, list the rental, and steal the money. This makes it hard for the potential renter to know the difference. (Although, this does make me question VRBOs authentication process).

In hindsight, there were some red flags, but none that were glaring. The first red flag is that the security deposit was the same price as the cost of the rental for the 5 days. That seemed a bit steep, but I’ve rented places with refundable security deposits before so I didn’t think much of it. Additionally, the payment links were sent through VRBO, and it showed as VRBO on my credit card statement. The second red flag came about 2 weeks prior to our trip when I messaged the host about how to access the free shuttle. I got no response but was able to speak to someone when I called the property directly. Finally, the name of the host listed on VRBO was not the name on the voicemail when I attempted to call the number listed for the host. In fact, they weren’t even the same gender. But I assumed that maybe they were a couple and shared the management responsibilities. All in all, it was a very clever scam. So much so that they had also fooled VRBO.How to avoid being scammed on VRBO

How Do You Prevent This

Thankfully, VRBO reimbursed us fully for the fraudulent unit, as well as the money spent on the hotel the night of check in. They also removed the fraudulent unit from their website immediately and stated that they were doing an investigation into the fraudulent listing. But I’d also like to share what the local hotel concierge recommended to prevent future scamming.

  1. Always go through a booking company or a local property management. Even though this happened via VRBO, because I went through a reputable company, I was fully reimbursed. The local concierge recommended VRBO over Air BnB as he said this happens often with Air BnB, and most people are not reimbursed.
  2. After you book, immediately attempt to contact the host. If you get no response, reach out to VRBO directly to have them attempt to reach the host. If they are unable to make contact, cancel that reservation and book a different one.
  3. Keep track of all your communications from VRBO and the host. This way you have proof of the fraudulent booking or billing to ensure you will be reimbursed.
  4. When looking for condos, check to make sure the building and condo actually exists. In our case, the unit did exist, it just was not for rent. You can even call the local property management company to ensure your desired unit does, in fact, exist and is a rentable unit.
  5. If your payments are split into different portions, do not pay the final payment until you have confirmed all the above.
  6. Always ensure the communication is coming directly from VRBO. You can do this by clicking on the email address and confirming it is a legitimate email address.
  7. When booking through a rental site like VRBO, use the app as opposed to the website. It is much harder for scammers to hack an app than it is a website.
  8. Always use a credit card as opposed to a debit card when booking. This way the scammer cannot gain access to your bank account. Additionally, credit card companies have more resources to reimburse for fraudulent charges than most banks do.
  9. If you do not feel confident using a rental company like VRBO, you can contact a local travel agent to assist you in booking your vacation rental.


  1. What an absolute shame. I have done 18 Air BnB trips with none being scams but many thanks for the article as I will be more cautious now. I also have my own Air BnB here in St Rose so I can try to be responsive enough to let others know I am NOT a scam!


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