Tag Archives: fraud

Do you trust online vacation rental sites like HomeAway.com?

I’m going to New York next month. As there are three of us travelling and we are staying in town for four nights I thought I would book an apartment, rather than two hotel rooms.

I checked out homeaway.com because I met their UK sales director a while ago and I remember thinking that I should try their service sometime.

They have hundreds of great places all over the world and I was spoiled for choice looking at the map of Manhattan – eventually deciding on a 2-bed apartment on 50th street. I sent my details to the owner and he confirmed that it was available on the dates I needed.

He sent me an invoice via PayPal and I paid it immediately – $1370 – not a small amount, but certainly cheaper than 2 decent hotel rooms in midtown Manhattan for 4 nights.

After paying, I immediately emailed the property owner to ask for the exact address, what time I could arrive and all that basic check-in stuff. He never responded. Five days later I tried calling. The number was a dud.

So I emailed again, but I started worrying. What if this guy has just stiffed me for over a thousand dollars? I still need to book a place to stay in New York whatever happens with this guy!

So I filed a complaint with HomeAway. Typically their customer service team promised to get back to me “in a few days”… is that acceptable from any customer service team today? I’m in the hole for over a grand and I just have to sit tight and wait.

Fortunately, PayPal were very helpful and have reassured me that even if this guy has stolen from me, they will underwrite the loss. In short, they have a dispute resolution centre where I can contact the person I sent money to. Usually they would allow a week to see if the person responds. After that week, PayPal would get directly involved in the chase and if another 10 days passes with no resolution then PayPal will reverse the transaction.

That still feels like a long time to wait, given the amount and given that in a couple of weeks I need a place to stay. PayPal agreed and said that because of the amount involved, they would waive the usual 7 day wait and they will get immediately involved in chasing the funds.

So I’m shell-shocked because of the experience. This was my great welcome to HomeAway.com… the best I can hope for is that I have a property owner who forgets to reply to email and doesn’t have a working phone – it was all a misunderstanding. The worst is that my money has gone, but will be refunded in 10 days.

And if I know this will be resolved one way or the other in 10 days that still gives me about a week to find a place to stay in New York – but you can bet it won’t be on HomeAway this time, or any time in future.

Manhattan Panorama

Evite este lugar a todo o custo! Avoid this place at all costs!

Português está abaixo:

I’ve been to Camburi and Camburizinho, small villages in the north coast of São Paulo, many times. I’ve stayed in hotels, pousadas, and a campsite. On a visit last year I noticed the Ventos do Camburi pousada when I was looking for breakfast. It looked nice so I joined their Facebook fan page and email mailing list to receive more information.

They recently sent out an offer by email and I replied asking to book a weekend away – a Friday and Saturday night. They responded with the price and I agreed, paid my deposit and then travelled over from São Paulo on Friday evening.

When I arrived the reception manager was friendly and even showed me a couple of different rooms saying that I could choose between them. My husband and I chose our room, then went out for dinner, and had a nice evening.

Things were not perfect in the (very small) room despite the pleasant reception. The room smelled of mould and woodworm or lice were eating the door – all night we could hear something inside the door eating the wood and when I first heard it I thought we had rats in the room!

In the morning we went to breakfast and a man was talking loudly about how he ‘must speak to the people in room 23’… I said to him that we were from room 23. He was the hotel manager Carlos – he said that we have been placed in the wrong room and we were even in the wrong pousada! When I asked him what he meant, he said that Ventos owns two places – one in Camburi and one in Camburizinho.

We had checked into the Ventos that we had first seen, the one on Facebook, and the one we asked to book when we emailed and asked for the prices. However, Carlos said that we were booked into their inferior pousada down the road. He said we could only stay in our room if we paid to upgrade – we should leave immediately and go to the other pousada.

I asked Carlos how this could happen. We had asked for information, made a booking based on that information, and been welcomed and shown to our room by his staff.

Carlos turned out to be a very nasty character. He insisted that we had to pay extra to stay in the pousada – even though we had paid for our weekend in full on arrival.

After a long argument and Carlos refusing to change his mind or give any blame for the situation to his own team we decided to just leave the pousada. We asked for our money back for the Saturday night – it was still early on Saturday morning when we were having this argument.

Carlos refused saying that we had paid for the weekend and the money was not refundable as “a courier picks up the money every night”. This escalated into a further argument about him robbing us and we called the police and explained to them how the pousada was not going to refund us and had sold us a room in a completely different pousada.

The police were helpful, but said that was a civil matter and we would need to register a civil case – which we have now done.

One advantage of bringing the police into the matter was that Carlos’s boss and owner of the pousada, Ricardo, promised he would process a refund for us – however he said that it could not be on Saturday as he had to ‘go fishing with friends’ and was therefore too busy to help us. When I asked what he was going to do to fix the situation, he said that he was going to “pray, light a candle and hope for the best.”

We left the hotel feeling cheated – not only had the hotel owner sold us a completely different hotel to the one we believed we had booked (the one on their website and Facebook), but when we asked for our cash back, he refused.

At the time of this comment we are filing a civil action against the hotel for fraud and the incorrect description of the accommodation. We have still not received the R$250 Carlos promised to refund to our account.

Avoid this place at all costs – there are many nice places to stay in Camburi, but this is possibly the worst. It has made me never want to return to the town again.

Já estive em Camburi e Camburizinho, vilarejos no litoral norte paulista, muitas vezes. Já me hospedei em hotéis, pousadas e campings. Em uma visita no ano passado, descobri a pousada Ventos do Camburi enquanto procurava por um local diferente para tomar meu café da manhã. Me pareceu ser um lugar interessante, então “curti” a página da pousada no Facebook e adicionei meu email à lista de discussão de e-mail deles para receber mais informações.

Eles recentemente me enviaram uma promoção via e-mail e eu respondi pedindo para reservar uma suíte para o final de semana. Eles responderam informando o preço e eu concordei, paguei o depósito para que a reserva fosse confirmada e, em seguida, viajei de São Paulo até Camburizinho na noite de sexta-feira.

Quando cheguei na pousada, o recepcionista foi simpático e até me mostrou dois quartos diferentes, dizendo que eu poderia escolher o que mais me agradasse. Meu marido e eu escolhemos nosso quarto e em seguida, saímos para jantar e tivemos uma ótima noite.

As coisas não eram tão boas assim no (pequeno) quarto, apesar da recepção ser bem bonita e moderna. O quarto cheirava a mofo e cupins estavam comendo a porta – durante a noite toda, ouvimos algo dentro do porta comendo a madeira e, quando ouvimos esse ruído pela primeira vez pensamos que haviam ratos na sala!

No dia seguinte, na sala de café da manhã um homem estava falando em voz alta sobre como ele deve falar com “os caras do quarto 23″… Eu disse a ele que estávamos no quarto 23. Esse homem, que se chama Carlos e é gerente do hotel, disse que fomos colocados no quarto errado e estávamos no hotel errado! Quando eu perguntei o que ele quis dizer, ele disse que a Ventos do Camburi possui duas pousadas, uma em Camburi e uma em Camburizinho.

Tínhamos reservado um quarto na Ventos do Camburi, a pousada que tínhamos visto pela primeira vez, a do Facebook, a que tínhamos em mente quando perguntamos os preços, pagamos o depósito e fizemos a reserva. No entanto, Carlos disse que tinhamos reservado um quarto numa pousada inferior ali perto. Ele disse que só poderiamos ficar no nosso quarto, se pagássemos mais por isso – deveríamos sair imediatamente e ir para o outro hotel.

Perguntei ao Carlos como isso era possível. Tínhamos pedido informações, feito uma reserva com base nessas informações, fomos bem acolhidos e sua equipe nos mostrou opções de quartos.

Carlos acabou mostrando ser uma pessoa muito desagradável. Ele insistiu que tínhamos de pagar mais para ficar no hotel – apesar do fato que já haviamos pago adiantado pela nossa estadia no momento que chegamos.

Após uma longa discussão e após o Carlos ter se recusado a mudar de idéia ou dar qualquer explicação sobre os erros de sua própria equipe, decidimos deixar o hotel. Pedimos nosso dinheiro de volta para uma das duas diárias que pagamos- ainda era de manhã no sábado quando esta discussão teve início.

Carlos recusou, dizendo que tinhamos pago as diárias para o final de semana e que nosso dinheiro não poderia ser devolvido, pois o mesmo “não estava mais na pousada, um motoboy levla o dinheiro embora toda noite”. Este se transformou em uma briga pior ainda – desta vez por estarmos sendo roubados. Chamamos a polícia e explicamos como a pousada não nos reembolsaria e como eles nos venderam alhos e recebemos bugalhos.

Os policiais foram prestativos, mas nos disseram que esta era uma questão civil e não penal, e que precisaríamos registrar um boletim de ocorrência – o que estamos fazendo agora.

Uma vantagem de envolver a polícia nisso foi o Carlos ter entrado em contato com o proprietário da pousada, Ricardo, que prometeu que iria nos reembolsar – no entanto, ele disse que não poderia ser no sábado, pois ele iria “ir pescar com os amigos” e estava, portanto, muito ocupado para nos ajudar. Quando perguntei o que ele ia fazer para remediar a situação, ele disse que iria “orar, acender uma vela e esperar o melhor.”

Saímos do hotel nos sentindo ludibriados – o proprietário do hotel nos vendeu um hotel completamente diferente do que acreditávamos que tínhamos reservado (aquele mencionado em seu site e no Facebook) e quando pedimos nosso dinheiro de volta, a administração se recusou a fazê-lo.

Iniciaremos um processo civil contra o hotel por fraude e descrição incorreta de seus serviços. Ainda não recebemos os R$ 250,00 que o Carlos prometeu depositar em nossa conta.

Evite este lugar a todo o custo – existem muitos bons lugares para se hospedar em Camburi, mas este é, possivelmente, o pior. Esta experiência me fez nunca mais querer retornar a esse lugar novamente.


Photo by Andrew Becraft licensed under Creative Commons

A simple idea to prevent card fraud

I read about the German fraudster jailed in the UK recently. The BBC claimed his technology could remotely read card details allowing him to potentially earn up to £150m a year.

It makes me wonder why the UK, and other countries, do not adopt the very simple innovation most banks in Brazil use – though I believe it was initially pioneered by HSBC.

You put your card in the ATM and enter your PIN as usual, but then a new set of options, looking at bit like this is presented:

WXY              GHI

STU               JKL

ANC               MBO

DZF               PQR

The letters are in fact all randomised and different every time. Every customer not only has a four digit numeric PIN, but a three character password too. But you never type your actual password… in the collection of randomised characters you press the button closet to the character you want to type.

So, if your code is XYZ, even if someone watches or films you punching in the code, they cannot tell if you entered XYZ, YXF, XWD, WYF… simple, but very effective.
Ladybird on ATM

The Ashes and the Barmy Army…

I was in Birmingham yesterday to see Australia play England in the 3rd Ashes test – it was the final day of the test.

Given the amount of play lost to rain in this test (Saturday was a total washout), it was always likely to be a draw, but we started out on the last day with the distinct possibility of a win for England – if they could get a few quick wickets early in the day. However, Australia dug in and clung on for the draw.

I usually go to the test matches at Lord’s or the Oval, the two big London grounds, and I’ve never been to Edgbaston in Birmingham before, but I am travelling a lot in August so I’m going to miss the test match in London. They have already played at Lord’s, but I was too busy to go. I realised that if I didn’t go to see some play at Edgbaston then I wouldn’t see anything of the Ashes this year.

So I went on eBay and found a guy selling a single ticket. It cost me £40, which is more than face value for Edgbaston, but cheaper than London… as even the fifth day is sold in advance for the Ashes games. I booked a train ticket with Chiltern trains, which was just £15 return to Birmingham compared to £52 from Euston. Cheaper, but a lot slower.

I didn’t notice, until the eve of the game, that the eBay seller had actually sent me 2 tickets for the game. I only tried to buy 1. I went onto the site to see if I could contact him to check whether it was correct and found that his eBay profile had been deleted. So now I was concerned because I thought it could have been sold several times over… the ticket was a PDF, so it could easily have been sold many times. In the end it was all fine though. My ticket was valid and I ended up actually having a spare!

The atmosphere at the ground was great. The barmy army were having a lot of fun in the Hollies stand and there was a lot of cheering for anything… the crowd were really having a great time. A lot of people on the radio have criticised the fans for getting too rowdy. Put it this way, there were no fights and the fans were mixed… Aussies with English and lots of women watching too. The fans were singing and cheering great shots, but also having ironic fun too by cheering then booing the Australians – and winding up the fans in the same area. This is a live sports event and the crowd are just having fun – I can’t understand why anyone would think that watching cricket should be like going to the cinema…

Shame I am going to miss the test match at the Oval… I might get my father a ticket to go just so I can hear about it from him…