Scammed Out of $3,100 on a Booking.com Rental: Tripped Up

Last May, I reserved a two-bedroom apartment in London for eight days through Booking.com, using a credit card to hold the reservation. Soon afterward, I received what looked like an official email from the company offering me a 20 percent discount and insisting I pay the host directly, in advance, via wire transfer. I sent the equivalent of $3,100 to the account of a man named Nyholm Peik, which I now know was a foolish thing to do. Soon afterward, Booking emailed to tell me the property was no longer available. I got in touch with Booking and spoke with several agents about getting a refund, but they gave me the runaround, continually insisting on more documentation. Can you help? Sylvia, New York City

What New Yorker would be gullible enough to wire money across the Atlantic to the account of a person they’d never so much as spoken to on the phone?

You and me, for starters. In January 2011, I fell for a very similar scam, transferring about $625 to the bank account of a person named D. Kali Muthu after booking accommodations through an amateurish-looking site called privatelondonaptletting.com.

In my defense, the online vacation rental market was like the Wild West back then. Airbnb was just hitting 100,000 listings (compared with seven million today) and most people still thought Vrbo was a typo. Plus, I had wired money for a rental apartment via a similarly dubious-sounding website, rentflat.com.br, in Rio de Janeiro the year before without a hitch.

In your defense, the online vacation market has since matured. So don’t giants like Airbnb, Vrbo and Booking.com have systems in place to prevent scammers from posting fictitious listings? And don’t they try to prevent renters and owners from communicating off-platform to prevent just this kind of problem?

Yeah, mostly, sort of. But not in your case.

There also was some confusion about what the company’s refund policy is when users get scammed. Angela Cavis, the company’s director of communications for North America, said in a statement that Booking.com does reimburse the losses customers suffer in these cases.

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