Scam!

About a month ago, on Thursday, March 2nd (at 2:18 a.m. EST) we received this inquiry on our apartment listing on VRBO.com:

AM VERY INTERESTED IN YOUR PROPERTY, KINDLY GET BACK TO ME ASAP IF THE PROPERTY IS AVAILABLE FOR THE CHOSEN DATE…THANKS

To send an inquiry, the potential guest must provide their name, dates they are interested in, number of guests, and an email address.  This was Lynn Pringle, requesting April 3 through 6, for two guests.

Peg replied at 6:55 a.m. that the apartment was available for those dates, pre-approved Lynn to book the reservation, and sent a price quote, which includes Vermont room tax, a cleaning fee, and a $250 refundable security deposit.

At 4:08 p.m. that same day, Lynn sent this to us through VRBO.com:

Hello,

Thanks for your response, I have discuss with my husband and we both
interested in your property. I will be coming with my husband only and no
pet. We will like to make the full payment now, we will arrange the payment
inform of US cashier check or bank certified check

FULL NAME AND ADDRESS
PHONE NUMBER
DIRECT EMAIL ADDRESS
TOTAL AMOUNT

Kindly get back to me with mailing information and other details above to
enable us mail the payment to you on time via USPS to deliver to you next
day. If we have any contract form to fill out, you can send it to me, I
will sign and email it back to you or send it together with the check.

Regards

After this point the “conversation” reverted to emails. March 5th:

PEG: Lynn, if you mail payment directly to us, you will avoid the Home Away/VRBO service fee of $47 bringing the total down to: $814.93.  $250 is the fully refundable security deposit. Once we have received payment, we’ll email you directions.  Please confirm that you received this email and let us know if you have any questions!

LYNN:  Hello, I am sorry for the little delay in getting back to you about the payment. There was a mix up in the payment sent to you, I was supposed to receive two separate payment one for you and the other for my travel agent, but unfortunately the whole sum of these 2 payments were issue on 1 check in your name and sent to you. I tried to correct this but it was in vain as I was ask to resolve the problem myself. It would have to go through a very long process to change this error. Please I don’t know what to do. My agent advised me to contact you since the check is issued in your name, you should be able to help. As soon as you receive the check have it cashed, you are to keep your full payment and remit the balance to my agent. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.

March 6th

PEG: Lynn,  I’m happy to help. When the check arrives I will email and review what you’d like me to do before cashing the check. Not to worry! Peggy

March 11th

PEG: Lynn, good morning – I just wanted to let you know we’ve not seen a check in the mail. No rush on our end of any kind, but I did want to let you know. Best, Peggy

When guests ask to pay by check, we grant them a week to get the check to us.  So around mid-March, we took the Pringle reservation off the calendar.  Seeing a check for $2850 arrive out of the blue, in an official-looking envelope, on Saturday, March 25th, was certainly confusing.  Once Lynn confirmed the check was for her reservation, we deposited the check, but agreed we would wait a few days to make sure it cleared.

check

Saturday, March 25th, the email conversation really began…

PEG: Lynn, we received a check today from “Strategic Security Solutions” in Raleigh, NC in the amount of $2,850.00.  The sender on the envelope reads, “Taylor Wilson of Manhattan KS … is this the check you are concerned about?  Peg

LYNN:  Yes my financier mailed out the check, and it was issued out from the head office in NC….thanks for your honesty 

PEG: Lynn, do you still intend to stay at our vacation apartment, arriving April 3 and departing April 6?  If so, do you want me to deposit the check and send the difference somewhere?  Happy to review by phone if that is easier. Best, Peggy

LYNN: Yes We are still very interested in staying in your apartment, arriving April 3 to 6. Yes go ahead and deposit the check. When will you be able to deposit the check?? Kindly keep me posted…thanks 

PEG: Lynn, I can deposit the check on Monday and I can write a check for $2,035.07 which would be the difference.  Who should I make the check out to and where should I mail it?  Peg

Two days later, on Monday, March 27th

LYNN: Good morning Peggy Allen, are you putting the difference in the mail today?? So I can provide you the information to mail out the differences….thanks 

PEG:  I could. On the other hand, we’ll be here next week and I can hand you a check. Peg

LYNN: Thanks for the response, you’ll have to send the check to the travel agent that will book our flight and also take care of other travel expenses down to your property. Here’s the information….

I want her to schedule our flight down to your property in time and get everything ready for the vacation, pls overnight the check to the information above so it get there the the (sic) next day and deduct the mailing charges from the total amount you are sending….thanks  Pls take a picture of the check and send it with the tracking no, so i can give the travel agent heads up…thanks 

PEG:  Lynn, my husband deposited it this morning so taking a picture of the check is not an option.  I’m finding this situation very odd.  Did you know the check itself was cut last Thursday, March 23rd?  Also, I’m reluctant now to write a check until I know that the check we received clears, which take about 2 days.  I don’t know where you are flying into and out of, but I would be concerned about securing a seat on a plane at this late date.  In any case, I will overnight a check to Veraniquie Wallace Wednesday morning.  You are welcome to call me to discuss.

March 28th

LYNN: No problem at all Peggy and thanks for your prompt response, the fund will be in your account today or latest by tomorrow morning, the travel agent leaves for vacation soon so she wont be able to pick up when a check if you mail it out tomorrow, i will implore you to help remit the difference to her through any walmart outlet, moneygram or WesternUnion around you, i would resend the information to remit it to and pls deduct the outlet charges from the the total amount, i will keep in touch with you on this.

March 29th

PEG: Lynn, this is not an option.  I can overnight it today for tomorrow,, THURSDAY or hold the check and give it to you next week. Let me know what you’d like. Peggy

LYNN: I understand but the vacation is just few days away and i just want the travel agent to receive the check Asap so we can get things in order for our trip down to your property, pls overnight a money order or cashier check to…

And pls take a picture of the check or money order and send to me with the tracking no before putting it in the mail.

PEG:  Tracking number is: Tracking number:  EL 610026940 US  … I’ll forward photo of check separately. Peggy

LYNN: Have received the tracking no, pls send the picture of the check on here or my phone # (408) 741-6447 ….thanks 

And…

Got it, i will keep you posted with our travel plans…Thanks

After two days, we felt the check was good, and I went to the Hanover Post Office on the morning of the 29th to send the check Priority Express for overnight delivery.  We agreed we would just take the $23.75 charge out of the security deposit.  Early afternoon, I look at our bank account balances online, and POOF, the $2850 was “returned” – BOUNCED.

I RAN the two blocks to the Post Office with my copy of the Priority Express paperwork. After waiting in line for a few minutes, I asked Bob (who had served me in the morning) if I could stop the letter.  As he went into the back room, he said, “I thought that was what you were going to ask me.” A few minutes later, another Post Office employee told me it had already left, but that I can go online and request it be intercepted, for a fee.  Back at my desk, sure enough, “Intercept a Package” shows up on the “Track & Manage” drop down box on USPS.com.  Tracking number, our mailing address, and $12.95 later, the order was in the system.  Next, I went online with the bank to put a stop payment into the system.  Peg had given me a blank check that morning to fill out and mail, so the check number was not from the checkbook I carry with me. No worries, Lynn asked for a photo of the check.  Look on my phone – #2291.  Another $20, but I felt it was worth taking the “belt and suspenders” approach to protect roughly $2000. 

Last thing to do that day, send Lynn a short note…

Lynn:  your check bounced.  I have cancelled overnight delivery of the check to Ms.Wallace and put a stop payment on it.

Oh, and I tried calling her “phone”.  It rang 6 times and a message played, “the text mail subscriber you are trying to reach is unavailable, please leave your message after the tone.”  Not even a real phone.

 

That night, we both agreed the “pls overnight a money order or cashier check” wording in Lynn’s email – before actually going to the Post Office to send a check overnight – was a complete tipoff.  Only problem, neither of us were reading her emails closely enough to smell a rat.

Saturday, the mail truck made it up a very slippery snow-covered driveway so I could sign for the returning Priority Express envelope.

Monday morning I took the uncashed check to Rick our branch manager, who said he would reverse the $20 stop payment fee.  Total out-of-pocket loss: $36.70.  Lesson learned: priceless.

Todd

p.s. – the morning of April 4th we received an inquiry from “Grace Watson” (at 3:42 a.m.) for a week in late May.  Peg replied the apartment is available, and “Grace” quickly came back with a long response that included,

“This is our annual holiday, our entire family vacation booking and expenses will be paid by my Company Financial Department, the company will be paying for our booking reservation at your property & all other expenses. The booking price is perfect & we need to confirm my reservation soon. My financial director will send a check payment to cover our renting expenses. You will receive a certified cashier’s check issued out for easy cash-out at your bank, Such Cashiers Check Payment clears within 24-48 hours after deposit in the bank and all service charge will be deducted from my money.
You’re free need to confirm the payment is in your account and your account is credited before confirming our reservation.” 

I wonder if Grace knows Lynn…

 

 

 

 

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