It’s that time of year again. 

With Spring Break just a couple of months away and summer vacation planning in full swing, consumers like me and you are online hunting for lodging accommodations.

But right now, there are also conniving scam artists hunting - for your wallet.

And here is the thing, I was an investigative news journalist for over a decade, so I am probably more skeptical than most, and even I nearly got taken for $500!

Remember, these con men and con women are smart and computer savvy.

So let me tell you what happened to me, show you the red flags to look for, and hopefully teach you what I learned so you are not taken advantage of.

I hopped on VRBO, which is a well-respected and well-known travel site. I prefer VRBO because you can book a property, and as long as you cancel within the window they provide, they guarantee you get your money back. It’s called the VRBO “Book With Confidence Guarantee.”

I instantly got an email confirmation from VRBO, confirming my booking of a condo in Arizona for Spring Break.

If you have ever been on VRBO, they ask for your name and phone number during the reservation setup. But within 30 minutes of booking the condo out West, I got a text from a woman who identified herself as the property owner and called herself Mary. 


(damage deposit request outside of the VRBO website)

She asked me about a “damage deposit payment.” I thought that should have been something included in the initial reservation through VRBO, *not* through a separate text directly from the property owner.

When I got home from my son’s basketball practice, I opened the email she was referring to. 

And here is the tricky part - it does appear the email came from VRBO because the URL is


(bank-to-bank transfer request, conflicting name, random Gmail account)

In reading the email, it talks about making the payment through ZELLE, which is a bank-to-bank transfer. Don’t get me wrong, I have used Zelle before, and in many cases, it is okay. 

I have several friends who have also used Zelle without issue. 

But again, I was still suspicious why I was making a damage deposit outside of the VRBO site. I had a bad feeling in my gut. 

Then I also noticed the name within the email was “Rose Thetford” and not Mary, and it had a Gmail account listed as the point of contact (

So I decided to text this Mary lady again, expressing my concerns about Zelle, even forwarding her articles I found online about scammers using Zelle, and she instantly got defensive.


(Defensive when you have a safety concern)

When I woke up in the morning, I saw more texts from Mary - the tone is rude, and she is rather persistent about me paying the $500 damage deposit. Fed up with the back and forth, I ask this alleged Mary lady to call me so that I can hear an actual human’s voice. She, of course, has an excuse why she can’t talk.


(Rude, Persistent, Non-Available)


(Google line)

So instead, I decided to call the number listed on her texts: 302-648-7184.

Mary did not pick up; instead, it automatically rolled to some Google voicemail, saying I had reached a "Google line."

I had everything I needed to know; my gut was right.

This scam artist created a post on VRBO, advertising a place that did not exist. Then had made an email that looked like it came from VRBO (at first glance) to try and gather a $500 damage deposit, that had I fallen for, would have been sent from my bank to the scam artist's bank. 

And equally as bad, I would have shown up in Arizona with no place to stay.

So being the reporter I am, I called VRBO directly and showed them the correspondence I had gotten. They verified my suspicions - saying every transaction must be done within the VRBO website itself. And transactions done within their website are guaranteed to be reimbursed. 

But I would not be protected if I used an outside party like Zelle.

And I would have lost that bogus $500 damage deposit the scammer was requesting.

VRBO immediately canceled my booking and did refund the lodging fee itself.

The case was turned over to VRBO’S fraud department, and the next day I got an urgent email, which was sent to anyone who tried to book the advertised property, saying it’s uncommon, but VRBO believes the property was falsely represented.



Another thing I learned in chatting with the VRBO representative - he told me the URL is fraudulent. Any emails coming from VRBO would always be coming from a URL

So, after all this drama, I had to start my Spring Break search again. I had almost been duped. Almost.

But again, I was looking so closely I caught some of these red flags. But for people like my parents or some of my less suspicious friends, they could have been taken advantage of quickly. People are so busy these days and are multi-tasking around the clock. Uncovering this scam took a lot of time for me to sort through - many people don’t have that time to investigate. 

Nor do they pick apart and examine correspondence or an URL so closely. 

And I can almost assure you, most of my friends would not be as forward to request a call or pick up the phone to hear a human voice in the era of most things being done via email or text.

And perhaps you have used Zelle in the past with no issue. Me too. But that doesn’t mean scammers won’t also use it to clean out your pocketbook.

That is why I wanted to share my own story, so hopefully, you too can now be aware!

Remember the red flags: Let me re-cap:

1. Damage deposit request outside of the VRBO website

2. Bank-to-bank transfer request

3. Conflicting name

4. Random Gmail account

5. Defensive when you have a safety concern

6. Rude

7. Persistent

8. Non-Available

9. Google Voicemail

10. Suspicious URL, not from support