Monthly Archives: May 2016

Vacation Rentals – A Cautionary Tale

I like to think of myself as a reasonably intelligent person. I generally have sound judgment and insight. But, I am also a trusting person with faith in the goodness of my fellow humans. Turns out, I am sometimes too trusting. A little bit of skepticism can be a good thing and I recently learned this the hard way.

Other than my duties as doctor and mom, over the past few years I have also taken on another role – that of Travel Agent. Somehow, I have become the organizer of trips, the renter of vacation homes, and the planner of activities for family and friends. It has generally been a task that I have enjoyed, until now.

Recently, I was charged with finding a vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard. My Dad, who is turning 70 this year, wanted more than anything to get all of his children and their families together for a weeklong reunion. I began my search as usual… VRBO, Flipkey, etc., and I was beginning to get a bit concerned that this trip was going to be out of our financial reach, at least for a property that could accommodate all 14 of us comfortably. Then we stumbled upon an amazing property, like finding a needle in a haystack. It was right on the water, had rooms for all, access to kayaks and paddle boards, a rooftop hot tub, and a pool. And it was not exorbitantly expensive!

The property was listed on a reputable site but when I went to try and reserve it, the site wanted a $15,000.00 security deposit, more than the cost of renting the home. So, I did as I normally would do. I contacted the manager. The manager explained that this was typical of this site (heretofore, I had never had dealings with this particular site) and that another site offered a more reasonable security deposit.   He offered me a link to the other site, which I happily followed because we were all so excited about the opportunity to get this amazing house. The other rental site offered beautiful photographs, excellent customer reviews, and listed a reassurance that this manager had achieved their verification ID.

I ran it by my family (though in hind sight, not thoroughly enough) and everyone was on board. I let the manager know of the dates we were interested in. He replied that a wire transfer needed to occur to secure the rental dates and that another party was interested in renting for the entire month. The pressure was on. I took time out of my workday to run to the bank and request a wire transfer for the entirety of the rental amount and emailed a copy of the wire transfer receipt to the manager to confirm that the transfer was going through. You can see where this is going.

Later that day, I received an email. This email was from the original rental site that I had contacted – the one that wanted the $15,000.00 security deposit. The email stated that the listing for the property I just rented looked suspicious and that it was removing the listing from their site.   My heart sank. I felt sick. All the red flags that I should have originally seen became suddenly clear.

I hopped on the Internet and searched the address for the property. It was indeed a real house but it was for sale. I contacted a couple of local real estate agents who confirmed that the owner was not using the house as a rental property. I contacted the site I thought I was renting through and they had no listing of the property in question, nor any of my information.

In the following days, I have spent countless hours on the phone with the bank, trying to request a wire recall. I reported the event to the Attorney General’s office. They referred me to the Internet Crimes division of the FBI where I submitted a report of events. I contacted my employer, my credit card company, and the credit bureaus to place a fraud alert and to put a freeze on my credit reports. I have done all that I can do and, with every day that passes, I grow less and less confident that we are going to get our money back.

While I feel embarrassed that I allowed this to happen, I share these events with you because I don’t want anyone else to go through the strain with family, the risk to personal security, and the self-doubt that this has caused me. These are some very important, and very expensive, lessons that I have learned and I hope that you’ll take note and remember them the next time you are looking into vacation rentals.

  1. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER wire money. Credit cards offer fraud protection but once you wire money, it is gone and there’s no getting it back if the funds have already been withdrawn.
  2. NEVER pay the full amount for a property upfront. Legitimate listings will have you put a certain amount down and the remainder will be due just prior to your trip.
  3. Just because the property is listed on a reputable site, don’t trust that the property is legitimate. Do your research. Look up the property outside of the site. Talk with other renters if possible.
  4. Don’t let yourself be rushed! In this case, the manager put the pressure on but I also pressured myself – pressure to keep costs down for my family, pressure to secure a site that seemed ideal and would make everyone happy. I allowed myself to be rushed and we definitely don’t think as clearly or objectively when we are rushed.
  5. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Listing rates should be in keeping with those of other similar properties. If it is much less expensive than everything else you’ve looked at, this should be a clue.

So, I’m out of the Travel Agent game for a while. I need some healing time and some time to reflect on how I let myself get into this situation. I have always lived my life trying to see the best in others and I hate that I have become more jaded and suspicious as a result of these events. On the other hand, I don’t want to be that person that gets easily taken advantage of. If the Universe was trying to teach me a lesson about healthy skepticism, it has certainly succeeded. Well done, Universe. Well done.

Gratitude on Mother’s Day

I am blessed with more than the usual number of mothers, the usual number being one. I count four. And that is not including the adopted mothers that I claim as my own… the mothers of friends who have given me guidance, support, and love over the years. I won’t go into the details of how I came to have four mothers but let’s just say that my family tree has many branches. Mother’s day around my house is a big deal. Just signing Mother’s Day cards requires an assembly line set-up that would make Henry Ford proud. Unfortunately, most of my mothers are far away. But, on Mother’s Day, I gather up the mothers closest by and we celebrate with food, drinks, presents and walks on a beautiful spring day, being thankful for each other’s company and honoring those who couldn’t be with us for the day. After all, being a mother is an amazing gift and it deserves special recognition.

Since becoming a mother, I make a special effort to take time on this day to think about the many mothers in my life and to reflect upon the ways in which they have helped me to be the woman, and mother, that I am today. I am so grateful for the lessons in courage, confidence, giving, humility, fearlessness, humor, determination, and dignity that they have taught me. We, like all mothers and daughters, have had our ups and downs. But we maintain an infinite capacity for patience, love, understanding, and forgiveness and this has made us grow only stronger over the years.

The other mothers in my life, my girlfriends (and I count my sister in this bunch because she is my best and forever friend) also receive a special place in my thoughts on this day. They are the women I’ve grown up with. In some cases, we have known each other years before ever becoming mothers. We have embarked upon life’s journeys together… love, marriage, careers, and then, children. We have supported each other through bad times and good. Though life has put distance between us, we remain close in each other’s hearts. Though years may separate us, our reunions feel as if were just together yesterday.   We have walked the path of motherhood together, feeling the joys and doubts and sorrows and triumphs that this wonderful calling has given us. I could not have survived motherhood without these women and I feel so lucky to have them in my life.

And, finally, my thoughts turn to the men in my life who have allowed me to have this most amazing of jobs. My husband shares this parenting journey with me and he is a wonderful father and husband. And then, there are my sons. Their smiles, the little freckles on their noses, their humor and cleverness, their will and determination…. Well. I am one lucky mom.

Thank you, all of you, for walking this road with me.  Happy Mother’s Day to you and to all the wonderful mothers in your lives!