The Life of Bon: Scams and vacation mishaps

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Scams and vacation mishaps

Turns out preparing to leave for Germany is only the tip of the iceberg for how stressful it can get when you're preparing for vacation.  How could I forget about this that happened a year ago?

Originally written and published August 2013.
I got scammed out of $1,100.  That is money I worked my butt off for and it is money I will never see again.  It happened in mid June and I wanted to write about it.  I wanted to let my blog feel how devastated I was, to share with strangers my story, to let my fingers heal the experience through the writing of it.

But I couldn't.  I don't know why, but I can't write well when I am highly emotional.  I have to be in a calm state of mind.  To some extent I have to detach myself from the experience to be able to write about it.  The first time I mentioned my dad's death on this blog was two years after he died.  It took me that long to be emotionally ready to write about it.

That is why I haven't written yet about how I got scammed.  I decided to give it a couple weeks before I was ready.  Then a couple more.  And maybe one more.

Now I feel ready.  Mostly I need some kind of closure on the experience- to tell it in its fullest and then move on forever from the experience.

There are two versions of this story and I'm not sure which one you want to hear so I will tell them both to you.

Version #1:  The short version-

I got scammed out of $1,100

Version #2: The long version-

In March, Greg and I decided to go to Hawaii with Greg's family.  His brother and wife would be moving out of state and it seemed like a good opportunity to gather us all together for some quality bonding time before they bailed on us.  I didn't want to get ripped off on some crappy hotel in Waikiki, and since I had lived in Hawaii before I figured I would take it upon myself to find us a place to stay.

There were three couples and no kids-  a condo would be perfect.  I googled "rent condo on Oahu" and went to some classic safe "rent a condo" sites like airbnb and homeaway.

I clicked on this link and thought the place looked nice- especially for $1,500 for the week.  That would only be about $500 a couple.  Score!

Looks, great, right?

So I pushed the little tab on that says "Contact me" to send a message to the owner.  I stated I was very interested, would like to know more, yada, yada, yada.

The next day I got an email in my personal inbox.  The owner stated the condo was available the week we were looking at but another family was also looking at it.  She also told me we would get a 30% discount since it was during the "off season" making the total $1,100.

"Freak, guys, I'm a genius!" I thought.  "I'm so good at this people should pay me to do it for them!  Less than $400 a couple to stay the week- yes I am amazing and people are lucky to know me!"  You know, normal stuff you think when you find a condo at a great deal.

I emailed back, said we would take it, and she said she would send us over a contract.  Her email looked super legit.  Just so you believe me how legit it was I'm going to copy and paste some of the details.

We have a special offer. The breakdown would be as follows:

$ 1,560.00 ( 7 nights )
$ 0.00 (Departure Cleaning Fee)
$ 1,560.00 +
- 30% (Discount for special offer only)
$ 1,092.00 (TOTAL/Tax included)

Cancellation 100% refundable 15 Days prior to arrival.

Rate is inclusive of:
- Hawaii tax
- Airport transfers, round trip (one time from and one time to airport)
- Wireless internet access (unlimited internet usage)
- Free Laundry service
- Daily housekeeping
- Car - Ford Galaxy (excludes petrol cost)

For this special offer payment of $ 1,092.00 must be completed within 7days (to secure
this booking).

If you would like to proceed I will just need your home address for the contract and I
will forward as e-mail attachment.

Airport Transfers:
Through popular demand we are offering Round trip airport transfers by our private driver
to pick-you up at the airport upon your arrival (he will be outside with a
sign that has your name on it) then check you in and bring up your bags and groceries. Upon your agreed
departure time, he will return to the villa, load up all your suitcases and bring you back
to the airport for your departure flight.

Check in & check out:
Check in time is 3 pm and check out 11 am (there is a flexibility  in case your plane
leaves or arrives at different times) to give the cleaning person a chance to properly
prepare the villa for my next guest.

Please let me know if you have any questions and how I can further assist you.

We look forward to being of service to you.

Kind regards,

Melissa Randy

She sent us over the contract with all the details.  I've never signed a contract for staying anywhere for a week, but I figured, whatevs.  Can't hurt.  The contract gave us all of her bank account info and stated that to reserve the condo we needed to wire the money over.

I realize now that this should have alerted me.  But I was innocent and naive and too trusting.  Anytime I've ever booked a place to stay, a flight, bought anything online I've always paid for a credit card or paypal so I should have known this was off.  I guess I just figured that since it was independently done and not by a big business they required the money just be sent directly over.

So that week I headed on down to Chase, my bank, and wired the money on over.  Not just my money, but my mother in law's money and my sister in law's money.  I took it all and sent it over and even paid the $40 fee to wire money internationally.

Yep.  She was having me send the money internationally.  Obviously this should have been my red flad number two.  Why was I sending the money to London?  But everything still seemed super legit.  The owner had signed a contract, there was a number to contact her, it was through airnbnb, a safe and trusted site.  I was fine.

So I sent that money on over, Greg at my side when we did it.  We smiled thinking about where that money was going- a condo for a week in Hawaii!  We were so lucky.

And that was it.  The money was sent in March along with the contract and we were good to go.

Three months later, Greg and I were getting ready to head out to Hawaii.  It was a Wednesday.  We were going to my cabin for a family reunion from Thursday to Saturday and then Saturday we were to drive to Boise (6 hour drive) where we would catch our flight to Hawaii on Sunday morning.  Who doesn't love summer and vacations and road trips and cabins?  Everything was great!

Tuesday night I sent an email to Melissa with our flight plans and asking if there was anything else we needed to take care of before we got there.

Wednesday morning I sat in my classroom at my new school.  I tried to be super productive and get everything taken care of before we left town for 10 days.  I organized books, tried to figure out the layout of my new classroom, and also looked for a place of silence for a few hours so I could answer emails, schedule blog posts, etc.

Ping.  From the corner of my eye I saw that I had gotten a new email.  I clicked over, my mind always happy for a distraction, to read this:


I'm the manager of the resort.
Melissa is not available for the moment.

We want to inform you that the resort suffered a fire and is destroyed 70%.

The persons that was there, forgot something deteriorated plugged in and caused the fire.

I am sorry to announce you that the booking will be canceled and the money will come back in your account + the money that you paid for the fly tickets.

Please reply with the sum that you pay for the fly ticket and your bank account details so we can give you all your money back.

Thank you for your understanding.

Now I might have been stupid enough to wire money internationally to book a condo, but I was smart enough to realize that there was something majorly wrong with this email.  I emailed back right away, demanding to know why we were not alerted of this sooner, but in the back of my head I knew the money was gone, knew we were going to Hawaii in three days and had no place to stay, and knew I had been totally scammed.

I called Greg right away.  He thought I was playing a prank on him.  Because that sort of crazy, dramatic stuff doesn't happen in real life, right?

At that point I knew I wasn't going to get a thing done in my classroom, so I grabbed my stuff and headed home.  I didn't cry on the way home, just focused and concentrated on finding solutions.  I'd fix this. My mom was at the cabin already where she couldn't get service. I didn't feel like we could tell Greg's family yet because we had just totally lost all of their money. I was desperate for a responsible adult to talk to, someone to talk to me rationally, to calm me down, someone older and wiser who would know what to do in this situation.

I called my brother.  No answer.  I called my lawyer friend in Arizona.  No answer.  I tried my mom even though I knew she wouldn't answer.  A desperate attempt.

Once I got home, it took both Greg and I several minutes to start thinking rationally and calmly.  Panic mode sets in and it's hard to get your brain to act, you know?  I had emailed back "Melissa" about three times and received no response.  I knew I never would.  I called airbnb to report the scam and to see what they could do. They basically replied that they could do absolutely nothing as I was not a registered user of their site. They had no record of any of my correspondence with "Melissa".  Yes, because she emailed me at my personal email I told them.  We went in circles for close to an hour with no solution.  When it came down to it, the guy basically told me that they couldn't help me because everything was done off the site. They didn't even have a record of my first initial attempt to contact her within the site.  As far as they know I could be making the whole thing up so they couldn't help me.  I understand that if I don't have an account with them there isn't they can do to help me, but the fact of the matter is a scammer successfully used their site and information I gave on that site to get my money.  They didn't seem too concerned.  (I talked to them again this week- they won't even take the page down as they continue to claim it's legit...)

Next I called Chase to see if they could help me out.  I had transferred the money from my Chase account, after all.  (Looking back and realizing what happened, I am a little frustrated that the Chase banker helping me to transfer the money didn't warn me at all.  I was sending $1,100 internationally to reserve a week at a condo?  Shouldn't bankers of all people know that that is suspicious activity?)  Chase basically washed their hands of the matter, saying the money had been gone for months and there was nothing they could do.

"Can't you figure out whose bank account it went into and demand the money back?"
"No, ma'am.  Their bank will protect them."
"You didn't protect me!"
"Ma'am, I'm sorry.  We can't access someone else's account who doesn't bank with us.  Besides the account has probably been closed for months by now."
"So you're saying there's nothing you can do about it?"
"I'm sorry, ma'am."

I don't blame Chase, I suppose I am just confused.  Anyone I have told this story to with two bits of sense has replied, "Why did you transfer money directly?  Never do that!  Pay with a credit card or something that will protect you.  NEVER TRANSFER MONEY DIRECTLY FROM YOUR ACCOUNT!"  So why wouldn't a Chase employee have told me...?

I called the resort where the condo was supposedly located to ask if there had been a fire lately. Naturally, they said no.

I called the number on the contract for "Melissa."  I called internationally, not caring the extra fees, the extra numbers to dial.

Dead end. Dead end. Dead end.

And just like that, the truth dropped heavily into my lap.  In the back of my brain I had known for hours what had happened, but now my heart accepted it too.  Accepted that I would more than likely never see that money again, that I had been taken advantage of, that I had willingly given my money to a crook.  I buried my head in the bed and burst into tears.  I had been stoic up unto this point- not a tear, not a crack.  Now the walls came down and I let the emotions and the stress and the feeling of utter stupidity and failure wash over me completely.

"I'm so sorry, Greg.  I'm so so so sorry," I cried into the pillow. "I lost our money.  I lost our family's money."  He hugged me and put my hair behind my ear and told me that we would be fine.  But I couldn't help it.  I felt so defeated, so stupid, so naive. I felt like an idiot as I thought back to this post where I made fun of people who fall for scams. I was embarrassed to have lost his family's money, to have allowed them to put their trust in me when I clearly didn't know what I was doing.

I pulled myself together enough to face the immediate future.  We were leaving to Hawaii in three days and had no place to stay.  We surfed the web, found a couple of expensive rooms in Waikiki, paid with a credit card, and tried not to wince as we looked at the extra thousand plus dollars being added to our monthly credit statement.  It ain't no thing, right?

With that done we were free to leave the computers and the phones and get away from the madness for a minute.  We stepped out of the house and into the blazing hot afternoon, as if the heat were mocking our pain.  We drove to Maverick and bought a soda and drove aimlessly around town.  I don't know why the house felt so oppressive, so heavy, but we couldn't stay there.  We had nowhere else to go so we drove.

More than anything else I felt vulnerable.  Taken advantage of.  Scared.

"It's not a tragedy," Greg said as we drove.  "It's just money.  Money comes and goes and you can always make more money.  But we have the most important things in life that can't be replaced.  We have a happy marriage.  We have our health.  We have our families.  It's just money."

Yep.  Just money.

Still, it might make me feel a little better if you could all tell me all the money you've blown on scams and schemes.  Even if you haven't, maybe you could just make something up.


  1. Wow, thank you for sharing. I was thinking about doing Air BnB for a trip to Wilmington to save on a little hotel money. The only questions I have is what should I look for in order for this not to happen to me?

    1. I think maybe if you make sure it's all done through the site it'll be okay, just a suggestion. :)

  2. I'm so sorry to hear that you went through all these. To tell you, you have been so strong to handle it. Thank you for sharing.


  3. Wow - this is crazy! Thank you for sharing - I am sure it will help someone else.

  4. Thank you for sharing Bonnie. I haven't fallen yet but I have been close. When the whole foreclosure thing was going on, we too were losing our home. Naturally we looked for a new place--many of these "new" places were scams as well. People would take pictures from inside of homes and post them as vacant. When a person was interested in renting, the "owner" said he worked out of state and was placing his home as a rental.... you can imagine how that went. No one received their keys.

  5. What a horrible experience!

    I had someone attempt to scam me through Facebook. They messaged me through one of my friends' accounts and claimed to be stuck in London after having been robbed. I knew for a fact that this friend wasn't in England, but it still pulled at me as I thought "What if...?" Those scammers are GOOD.

  6. I just saw a story like this on the news last night! So sad! The best tips I heard were use a credit card or Paypal and call to verify. Most non scammers will leave a phone number. Ahh so sorry this happened to you!

  7. oh my goodness I would be devastated! I have lost money from a company online and it definitely sucks when there is nothing you can do about it.

  8. I remember when all of this happened Bonnie. It was SO sickening.

  9. Thanks for sharing this was a great post

  10. I almost thought you got scammed again. I felt so bad last year. That was the worst!!

  11. I'm glad you shared this story - I tend to be a little too trusting and naive.

  12. This isn't as bad, but still frustrating. My husband had a $400 speeding/no insurance ticket from out of state. He was young and naive. His roommate went to court (he worked there) and told him the ticket was cleared! He was free. Ha.

  13. Oops. Prematurely posted that. So anyway, fast forward eight years and we are getting ready to get married! I worked at a credit union and pulled my fiancé/now husbands credit. He had a bill to the state of NV unpaid. We contacted the state, found out the name of the collection company and called. He was told he owed $1200 now with all the fees. The collector was rude and pushy. He told my husband his drivers license was revoked and he'd go to jail if he was pulled over. My husband paid the $1200. Now, after years of listening to Dave Ramsey, I know the collector was a crook and we probably could've paid $200 to clear the ticket. Ugh. It is funny now to think all the lies we believed but frustrating to think how we wasted the money when we were full-time students getting married and totally broke.

  14. Oh my goodness, this is just about the worst thing I have ever heard - I am SO SO sorry - that is horrific. Thank you for putting me on high-alert though!

    xx Kelly
    Sparkles and Shoes