Cyber Scam Before US Court Surrounding Property in Belize

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Updated: February 25, 2016

With the emergence of online businesses and opportunities, scam artists are now finding new and innovative ways to make financial gains.  One such case is before the courts in the United States that involves a beachfront estate in Belize which was reportedly posted on a website as a vacation home available to rent.  Vacationers mostly from the United States and Europe are often times interested in staying in homes as opposed to hotels, particularly if it is a large group traveling.  In this case, one man from Boston, Massachusetts, Peter Hiam was looking to rent a beachfront estate for one week in December 2014.  He went on the website, www.homeaway.com and found what was advertised to be a home large enough for fourteen persons and included a chef, transportation around Belize and other amenities.  Hiam, who was very interested in vacationing in the country, wired an initial fifty percent deposit of twenty three thousand dollars with a second payment wired in October 2014 to secure the rental of the home.  As it turns out, Hiam later learnt that the photos of the property were taken from stock images on the internet and there was no such address as was listed on the website.  Hiam filed a complaint in February 2015 in the Massachusetts Federal Court. He, however was not the only one caught in this same scam as some months prior to his first deposit, another man, identified in the court room as John Doe had sent a twenty seven thousand dollar cheque to reserve the very same beachfront estate.  Doe did his research and found that the property did not exist and when he made attempts to cancel his reservations and get a refund he was unable to do so.  He then contacted the website owners to warn them that the property was a scam.  Homeaway.com responded to Doe some months later and told him, via email, that they had confirmed the existence of the property and that the supposed owners were authorized to rent it, but they refused to give any more details or provide contact information out of privacy concerns, according to Hiam’s complaint to the authorities.  Hiam also queried to the administrators of the Homeaway.com site to find out why he had not been contacted by the homeowners within the 30 days of his scheduled vacation which was a part of the rental agreement.  As a result, Doe and Hiam are saying that the entity, Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO) which owns the Homeaway.com site failed to protect its customers from the fraud.  As a result, Hiam and VRBO are in court over this property that was supposedly in Belize for rent.   Meanwhile, according to an article on the site, Courthouse News Service, a spokesman for Homeaway.com declined to comment directly on the lawsuit, but did say that instances of fraud are rare on their website.  We surfed the site earlier today and found several properties located in Belize that are being listed as rentals.