Venmo, CashApp, Zelle, and other payment apps are convenient for sending money to family and friends. But are they really safe to be using? Today’s guest is Michelle Couch-Friedman. Michelle is the founder and CEO of Consumer Rescue. She is an experienced consumer reporter, advocate, mediator, author, and licensed psychotherapist. Michelle has also been a columnist, contributing editor, and former executive director for Elliott Advocacy, a non-profit organization dedicated to consumer advocacy.“Many consumers are not using the apps in the way they were intended. They were meant to send money to friends and family or people you know personally. If you follow those rules, you will not be scammed.” - Michelle Couch-Friedman Click To Tweet
- [1:05] – Michelle explains her role within Consumer Rescue and the mission of the company.
- [2:52] – About 7 years ago, Michelle had a negative consumer experience.
- [5:12] – Her experience led to her journey in consumer advocacy.
- [7:56] – Through Consumer Rescue, Michelle assists people in staying calm and logical. Stick with the facts and stand out with brevity.
- [9:32] – Payment apps have become the preferred method for scammers worldwide.
- [10:33] – Payment apps will not refund you your money if you are scammed.
- [12:34] – Scammers set up websites that look professional and legitimate.
- [13:32] – This is very common with purchasing pets online.
- [14:35] – There are incremental steps to increase the amount of money sent.
- [15:50] – The incremental steps are common in romance scams as well.
- [16:51] – Michelle describes what a Chargeback scam is and how it began with Venmo, but shouldn’t work with Zelle.
- [18:59] – Don’t send money back if you receive money by accident from a stranger.
- [21:03] – There are safety nets in place to ensure accidents don’t happen. Don’t be hasty.
- [22:42] – If you don’t use a payment app or don’t understand how to use it appropriately, don’t have it on your phone.
- [24:35] – The apps are not a bank. They do not come with the same kind of protections.
- [26:52] – Payment apps are never going to be the preferred method of payment from any legitimate company.
- [28:27] – It is always a red flag when someone is trying to get you away from the website or legitimate platform.
- [30:48] – Look closely at websites and reverse lookup images on Google.
- [32:23] – Airbnb and vacation listings are common scams.
- [34:31] – When it comes to property listings, there are steps you can take to ensure its legitimacy.
- [36:37] – Alternatively, if something is listed underpriced, that could also be a red flag.
- [39:29] – Airbnb began as shared space rentals only.
- [41:10] – Make all your payments from the platform. Avoid third party payments.
- [42:57] – Prevention is best. Once you’re in this situation, you are likely out of your money.
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Michelle, thank you so much for coming on the Easy Prey Podcast today.
Hi, thanks. It's a pleasure to be here.
Can you give myself and the audience a little bit of background about who you are and what you do?
I am Michelle Couch-Friedman. I'm the founder of Consumer Rescue, an organization dedicated to helping consumers avoid and navigate problems with the companies that they patronize. We do that in a variety of ways.
Number one, my advocacy team and I act as mediators between businesses and their customers. If a customer has a problem with a company, they can submit a request directly through our helpline at consumerrescue.org/gethelp, and our team will review the details of their case and provide some problem-solving guidance that the consumer can then use and hopefully fix the problem on their own. We're all about empowerment.
Unfortunately, often when a consumer has reached our team, they've already been busy trying to fix the problem for a while. If that is the case, then our team can escalate the problem to the company directly and advocate a fair resolution.
We provide this service free of charge to any troubled consumer. We do focus heavily on travel-related issues, but we also tackle cases that involve services and purchased merchandise as well. Basically, if you're a consumer and you've paid a company for something, and you didn't get what you bargained for, we can help.If you're a consumer and you've paid a company for something, and didn't get what you bargained for, we can help. - Michelle Couch-Friedman Click To Tweet
The second way that we help consumers is through journalism. We publish articles about our efforts so that we can help more than just one individual at a time. Our columns cover topics from current scams we become aware of, to travel alerts, to common pitfalls that a consumer might encounter. Lastly, we also publish a weekly newsletter that provides insider tips and helpful information. I'm also an ombudsman columnist for The Points Guy and do consumer advocacy over there as well.
That's awesome. Was there a consumer issue that you had with a company that got you started in all this?
Yeah. About seven years ago, I was planning a trip to Greece. I booked a hotel, a Marriott Hotel, through Expedia. It said it was a two-bedroom hotel. I have kids and my husband. I booked, and I thought it was a great place to go.
A month or two later, after I'd made all the plans around that hotel, I received an update from the hotel that what I booked was not what I was going to get. It was only a one-bedroom place, which wouldn't work for my family. I wasn't getting a discount or anything—the same price that I booked a two-bedroom.
I had reservation books. I had the receipt. I had the confirmation. The company was just not going to help me at all. I went to Expedia. I asked for help. I went back to Marriott. They just kept pointing to each other. “There's a mistake with Expedia,” Marriott said. “Yeah, Expedia made this mistake.” And then Expedia said, “Marriott made a mistake.” Just back and forth, around and around. Meanwhile, I'm still getting closer to the date of travel. It was summertime, and I didn't have anything booked that would work for my family.
I was scrolling through the Internet and I found this website, Elliott Advocacy. They had a forum, and I made a comment there. Does anyone know what else I could do here? The advocates there started helping me and telling me what I could do. Then I actually asked for help through their website to their advocacy team.
I ended up not getting the two-bedroom. That one didn't work out quite as I didn't get the two-bedroom, but I got a refund of anything I paid. They also gave me $200, and I got some help finding a replacement. I ended up at a vacation rental.
I liked where I was. I stayed there at Elliott Advocacy. The next thing you know, I ended up, over the course of several months, becoming a staff member there. Eventually, I became the Executive Director of Elliott Advocacy. That's where I've been for the last six years, as an executive director of a nonprofit.
Now, here I am. My service to the nonprofit ended. I started Consumer Rescue. Many of the people that I worked with at Elliott Advocacy came with me here to Consumer Rescue, so we're continuing our mission.
I find the people that are most passionate about what they do in the field that you and I are in are people who have had issues and had to figure out how to resolve them on their own or with the help of other people to say, “More people need my help. More people need to know how to do this.”
There are just so many people out there. So many consumers need help, and they don't know where to go, and they don't know what to do or where to turn. I'm also a psychotherapist, so my original career is as an advocate. I'm a helper. I'm somebody who wants to help people.
This, to me, was a logical conclusion to go and help more people through Consumer Rescue. It doesn't have the same type of stress level as being a psychotherapist. You can solve problems much more quickly as a consumer advocate than as a therapist. That's how I'm here.
I assume a lot of the therapist skills really help deescalating and helping people approach their issues reasonably and calmly.
It's absolutely true because people who contact me and my team are in distress. Some people are in tears. They've lost thousands of dollars. Some are just really angry. That type of emotion can interfere with getting your consumer problem resolved because they're shooting off emails to the companies, yelling, and threatening never to use them again. That stops the flow of the mediation.
It's really important when I start dealing with a consumer that I help them to keep that emotion quelled. “We're going to go in and solve this problem in a calm and logical way. This is why you're owed your refund. This is what we're going to bring.”
People often write a novel to the companies that they are having a trouble with and telling them everything that happened leading up to the problem, into the problem, after the problem, 10 years ago before the problem started.You want to make your complaint stand out so that that person wants to help you. -Michelle Couch-Friedman Click To Tweet
What many consumers forget is that whoever's reading that email is likely receiving hundreds of complaints each week. You want to make your complaint stand out so that that person wants to help you. You make it short, polite, and just stick with the facts. What do you want today? What happened?
It's like bullet points. “Here's what I need you to help me with.” That works much better. Yes, my therapy training, I think, has helped me with being a mediator, a consumer mediator now.
I'm sure it has. I assume you also, in addition to complaints between consumers and legitimate organizations, get a lot of complaints about, “Hey. I was scammed. What can I do?”
That's a problem. I receive a lot of complaints from consumers who have been scammed out of thousands of dollars. The cash app, Zelle, has been at the forefront of these scams. I've been covering it for the last two years. It has become the preferred method of payment for scammers worldwide.
The problem is that many consumers are not using the app in the way it was meant. You can use Zelle safely and not become a victim of a scam if you understand what that is meant for. It is meant to send money to friends and family or people you know personally. If you follow those rules, you won't get scammed.
What's happening is scammers know that most people don't read the terms and conditions of what they're using. A scammer will sell you something on Facebook Marketplace. Of course, they want you to pay with Zelle. You don't know this person and you send them $3000 to buy a Gucci bag, and you get a box of rocks. Zelle is not going to help you get your money back and neither is Facebook Marketplace.
I've had many cases like this, where people thought they were getting a bargain on Facebook Marketplace or other marketplaces. When you hear someone asking you, a stranger, to make the payment with the Zelle app, you know you're dealing with a scammer, because that's against the terms and conditions of the use of Zelle. If you don't know that person, the bank isn't going to tell you who that person is.
If you've sent $3000 to somebody via Zelle and you don't know who they are, it's as if you handed $3000 to a stranger on the street who had a mask on their face, and then they ran away. You're not going to get the money back. It's really, really important.
I received these horrible emails every day without fail from victims of the Zelle scams. People who have purchased thought they were purchasing a puppy, and there's a picture of a cute puppy. They even named the puppy, and they can't wait, and they sit at their front door waiting for this puppy to arrive by this special transport that they paid $3000 via Zelle to receive. When the clock ticks past the time that puppy was supposed to arrive, it doesn't arrive. Suddenly, it starts to become clear that there's no puppy coming and you just tossed $3000 down the drain.
One of the most frequent types of scams that I receive complaints about is the buying of a pet and paying it with Zelle, like kittens. People set up these really amazing websites that look real. They've got all sorts of cute little puppies and whatever it is there—sometimes it's cats, and it looks like a real website.
It is a real website until you pay them and then it disappears the next day, and the website is no longer there, and then the scammer has gone to the next victim. They set up their website somewhere else. It's very easy to set up a website and leave it up until you catch one victim, and then it goes away and they start somewhere else.It's very easy to set up a website and leave it up until you catch one victim, and then it goes away. -Michelle Couch-Friedman Click To Tweet
I imagine with pets it's so easy because the person is starting to develop an emotional attachment. Once that emotional attachment is there, the warning signs get pushed off to the side.
That's what happens. They see this little puppy, and sometimes there are cute little videos. “This is the puppy you're going to get. There it is. What do you want to name it?” The scammer will ask you, “What do you want to name it?” Then they'll change the name on the website so that you see you named your puppy, and then they develop this relationship.
What happens is the victim of this particular scam—it’s not just a one-hit wonder. First, they get you to pay, say, $1200 for the animal. Then after you pay that, the next thing you know, they say, “OK. Now you have to pay for this transport company, because we found out that the aircraft is not pressurized properly, so now you have to pay another $1800 to this special kennel.” Then you pay that.
The next thing you know, “Oh, wait. Your puppy got sick on the way, and now we need you to pay another $800 to the veterinarian.” You see how it's step by step? When you first hear somebody lost $5000 to a pet scam on Zelle, you might say, “How could that happen?”
It's incremental steps. These scammers know. They're fishing, so they see you take the first bait, then they're going to go the next, and the next, and the next. I've seen them go four or five steps until finally the victim said, “No. Now I realize I'm in a scam.” But they will keep going.
They'll come up with many other things. “Oh. Now you need to buy a blanket for the thing, and it's only a special blanket that only this one place can sell.” It's shocking some of the tactics that these people use. Once they see that they have somebody on a hook, they'll just keep tormenting the person until the person's bank account is empty. That's happened many times.
That's been my experience with people. It's usually not a single incident. It started with a small amount of money, and then it just keeps getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger, longer and longer, more elaborate stories as to why some additional money needs to be paid.
It's the same with online romance scams. It's the same thing. They start out with a couple of hundred dollars and then next thing, “I need a little bit more and a little bit more.” It's never like, “Give me $100,000 right now.” They have to do this little by little.Once you're emotionally attached, you don't want it to be a scam. -Michelle Couch-Friedman Click To Tweet
Once you're emotionally attached, you don't want it to be a scam. The psychology of that is, you want it to be true, because in your mind, you've developed this relationship with this puppy or this kitten. You've already put a bed in the corner of your house. You're just waiting for the dog to arrive. You don't want it to be a scam. But the problem is, the longer you delay and don't admit that it's a scam, these scammers will continue to extract money out of your bank account.
I was also reading on your website about a scam—a Zelle scam that happened—where a person just received money out of the blue, and it turned out to be a scam. Can we talk about that as well?
Yeah. That is a scam. It actually started with Venmo, because in Venmo, you can actually use credit cards to fund your payments. Zelle, you can't. Zelle are bank-to-bank transfers. The traditional chargeback scam, which is what that is, isn't supposed to be something that can happen on Zelle.
Two years ago, I spoke to Zelle. The executive said, “Don't worry. You can tell your readers that they won't fall for the Venmo chargeback scam because these are bank-to-bank transfers. Zelle's transfers can't be reversed.” That was two years ago.
Since that time, I have seen repeatedly that they actually have been reversed. Each individual bank, you've got a customer service banker sitting there. They have some flexibility and can actually do these reversals. The traditional chargeback scam isn't available because these aren't credit cards, but the transactions can be reversed.
I have been now warning consumers that if you receive money suddenly from a stranger, don't try to send it right back. You have to sit there, wait, and see what happens. Ask your bank for help. In some cases, I have some other articles that have come out shortly, where the police were involved. The police actually facilitated the return of the money, because both sides then become suspicious of the other. “Why did you send me money?” The other one was like, “Why won't you give me back my money?”
If you receive money via Zelle by surprise into your account, just wait. Don't do anything with it. Leave it sitting there. Contact your your bank, first of all. Ask for guidance, and ask for guidance in writing, because a customer service agent might say, “Oh, you can send it back,” which is the party line. They say, “Send it back. You work it out between this person, and that'll be safe.” But it really isn't because I've seen too many of these situations go wrong.
I've seen cases where they look like it's going to go to violence. They start threatening each other and I’ve gotten involved and said, “Wait. This is nothing as worth losing your life. This person is threatening to kill you if you keep on asking for your money back.” Tensions are often really high with these.
I would say that most people are not trying. If you receive money from somebody by accident, most of those transactions on Zelle are just really people making a mistake. Every day, I receive a complaint from somebody who mistyped one number and it went to the wrong person. The banks will not facilitate a return that way either. They just tell you that you should ask for your money back.
The banks are part of the problem here. They're not protecting the users of this app, because they're giving them advice that I think could easily escalate to violence at some point. Consumers want some protection. “I made a mistake and I sent $3000 to someone by accident. I meant to send it to my mom. Can you please help me get it back?”
I've spoken to the heads of multiple banks—Bank of America and Chase. I spoke with Zelle at length, and the line is be careful when you're making these transfers. There are multiple safety nets. The first time you press the recipient’s phone number, it doesn't send immediately like that. Then there'll be a screen that says, “Are you sure you want to send this to…?” And then the number appears again and the name that's associated with that.
What happens is people in their haste to send their money—people are impatient, and they just scroll right through that warning. “Are you sure?” When I look at it, I say, “Look, you sent this to the wrong person. This is clearly not the person you wanted to send it to. What happened there?” “Oh. Well, I was in a hurry. I didn't see that warning.”
But the warning is very clear. It tells you who you're about to send the money to. The main point here for consumers is if you're going to use Zelle, make sure you understand what it is, what your rights are, which you don't have a lot.
I always say it's an instant way to send money, but it's also an instant way to have a disaster if you don't follow the rules and you don't pay attention to the prompts on the screen. Most mistakes that I see through Zelle if it's not an outright scam, involve a consumer who is not taking their time, who isn't understanding what the app is, and who just breezes past all the warnings and shoots off their money to a total stranger who then becomes concerned that they're scamming them.
These can all be avoided if you just take your time, slow down. If you don't know what the Zelle app is, if you don't understand it, take it off your phone. I've had many people who didn't understand what it is. They put it on their phone and didn't have the smallest clue what the dangers are with that app. That would be my biggest piece of warning.
I think when I set up a direct deposit or something like that with the company or even other companies that I've done business with, they'll do a micro transfer. They'll send two transactions—one’s a 3¢ and one's a 15¢—as a way to verify that it's the right account and they're not losing double payment.
We've recommended many times that to have another layer of protection, you could send $1 first to your recipient, and then call them and say, “Did you get it?” If they didn't get it, you know you did something wrong in that. That still doesn't take away the possibility that when you send it again, you breeze past those warnings and send it to the wrong person, because that's not going to send it to the exact person you sent it to unless you type in the exact thing again.
That's a good idea, but have the same type of carefulness when you try to resend it to make sure that you're still sending it to the right person. I've seen all sorts of mistakes that were so easily avoidable. They cause months and months of headaches and really horrible times for consumers who have thousands of dollars on the line. There's just no simple answer.
I always say with the Zelle app and other cash apps as well, be very careful before you hook one of those up to your bank account. This is not a bank. That app is not a bank. It doesn't come with the same protections that your bank account has.
It's a novelty. I think it's like a novelty. It's fun to be sitting at dinner and you can pay your friend $10 for your portion of the dinner. That's easy, but people are using it for all sorts of things that it wasn't meant for. It wasn't meant for you to buy an expensive purebred puppy.
Scammers have seized on. They just jump on this. This is like a dream come true—especially during the pandemic—a dream come true for scammers who can't be out and about doing their normal business. They just sit in their house.
I used to get a lot of complaints about the mystery shopper scam, where the scammer would send you a check and you had to cash. There are all sorts of steps before they would get their actual pay. Now, they can just tell you, “Here, you hook this up.” Immediately, they've got you, and they're gone before you even realize that you have been suckered for $3000, $4000, $5000.
This Zelle app is a dream come true for scammers sitting in their house who don't want to have to make much effort going out and about and strolling the Internet looking for things. This is so easy. You just make yourself up a website, sell a fake dog, go on Vrbo and set up a fake listing for a property you don't own, and then get the person to send you a deposit with Zelle. That's the latest scam I've been receiving complaints about.
They set up fake listings on Vrbo, and then they send emails that look like it's coming straight from Vrbo, but it's not. It says that Vrbo wants you to make a payment for your deposit using Zelle, that it's a recommended payment method. That's not true. Vrbo will never ask you to make a payment off their platform and definitely never with Zelle.
I think what many travelers don't realize is that not all listings on Vrbo or Airbnb are real. There is a percentage of those listings that are just sitting there. They're scammers. They are scammers waiting for you. They're fishing.I think what many travelers don't realize is that not all listings on Vrbo or Airbnb are real. -Michelle Couch-Friedman Click To Tweet
They're waiting for you to click on their listing and they're going to give you this feel. First of all, they're going to ask you to try to get off the platform. Don't make any payment on Vrbo. They’re going to give you a better deal if you now come with them and do your dealings off the platform. No reputable host on Vrbo or Airbnb will say that to you, because that's a violation of their contract with the hosting platform.
They are not supposed to be trying to lure Vrbo guests or Airbnb guests away from the platform. When someone starts that type of thing, then you know, at the least, you're dealing with a host that's not following the rules of their contract with the hosting company.
To me, that's always one of those, on any platform, it's always shady and a warning sign when the person is trying to get you off the platform. If it's a dating site and the person's like, “Hey. Let’s take this over to WhatsApp or….”
Yeah. And, “Oh, guess what? If you come off of the Vrbo platform, the Airbnb platform, I'll give you a $500 discount.” Try to play through the person's bit of greed or wanting to save money. But it ends up backfiring because you have no protection. I always say it's almost impossible to be scammed using Airbnb or Vrbo if you follow their terms and conditions, because they have safety nets set up along the way.
If you leave the platform, you're jumping out of the safety net. Now you have nothing. You do not have any protection if you follow a scammer off to wherever and send them a wire transfer, a Zelle payment, or whatever. You're not going to get your money back.
The reality is that you're likely not going to get your money back. Nobody should ever stroll off of these platforms with anybody, because that is the prime warning sign that you're in the clutches of a scammer.
Is there any way to tell from the listings, either on Vrbo, Airbnb, or any of the platforms, that something might be a scam?
There are certain indicators that I always warn people about. First of all, you want to look at listing a host once to present their property in the best possible way. If the photos look like something that were taken in 1970, or they're blurry, or if you look at the property and it looks like something from a different era, that's probably your first sign that scammers aren't really great photographers or anything like that.
Usually what they do is they use stock photos they found on the Internet or they use some old photos they've been using for years in their scams. You want to look at those pictures. I always do this. I take photos. I add the images into Google Images. That's a good way to find out if those images exist anywhere else.
I've uncovered scams where the scammer was on Vrbo and the pictures that were on the Vrbo website, I put them into Google Images, and it was actually a valid vacation rental on Airbnb in a different city, and that was a super host. So I knew that the one on Vrbo was a scam. The Vrbo gave the consumer back his money after that. If you're really a little bit paranoid, you can put the pictures into Google Images and see if they exist anywhere else.
I always say, if you look at the reviews. If there are no reviews at all, I would say use that as a bit of a warning sign, but not always, because obviously a host has to start out somewhere and they may not have any reviews yet. But you want to use it in conjunction with a bunch of other signs. Whether this should be considered, what's the overall picture of this listing?
I always say that not all listings that don't have any reviews are scams, but all scam listings do not have reviews. That's because Vrbo and Airbnb require you to have had a certified list that you actually had stayed at the property before they will allow you to review your stay. The listings under these two listing sites are real. If a property does not have any reviews at all, take that as a word of caution, like, “OK, when did they appear on this website?”
Fake listings go up and come down very quickly. If a scammer puts up a listing and he catches one victim, he's going to take that down and then put another one up several days later. You can only do one scam typically before Vrbo or Airbnb detect that it's not a real listing. It's important that consumers realize that the listings on those properties on that listing site, they're not vetted.
I receive emails from consumers where they are imagining that Vrbo and Airbnb are management companies, like rental companies. They're not. These are listing properties, like a dating site, but for vacation rentals. They're just hooking you up with a host, a property, so they're just a meeting site between hosts and guests.
They're not vetting the properties and not going out and checking out the property to see if it really exists, or even if it looks the way that the host says it looks, but most legitimate hosts are putting up a very nice listing. You should be able to contact the host. Before you send any money, there's a button that says, “Message host,” or something. Don't confuse it with the “Book the property” because that's another one. If you click that, you've just booked the property.
Message the host, ask a question, and then pay attention. First of all, does the host answer you quickly? A real host wants you as their guest. They're going to pay attention, and they want to answer you as quickly as possible.
If they answer you quickly, pay attention to their grammar. If they're somebody hosting a property in Los Angeles, but they sound like they don't even have any grasp of English, that's another sign that this host may be not in the United States, and they are sitting somewhere overseas just getting ready to scam you out of your money, so pay attention to the grammar.
Also beyond just, will the host answer you and do they sound like they're real? You want to keep that in mind, because if they don't answer you or they finally answer you after several days, remember, if you've got a problem with that property, Vrbo and Airbnb aren't going to help you. They're not management. That host is who you're going to have to ask for help.If they don't answer you properly when they're trying to get you as their customer, move on. -Michelle Couch-Friedman Click To Tweet
If they don't answer you properly when they're trying to get you as their customer, move on. There are thousands and thousands of properties on these sites. If the host doesn't seem real interested in helping you, they're not going to become more interested if you have a problem with the property.
I would assume someone was offering a four-bedroom luxury mansion overlooking the Hollywood Hills for $200 a night, if the pricing is significantly off, you should be concerned also.
Yes, you definitely should be because if every other property in that area for that similar property is way more expensive, then you've got to say, “Whoa. What's going on here?” You may want to ask the host, “What is this about?” We don't know, but you can ask. But I do know that recently, I dealt with the Airbnb scammer two times—the same scammer.
He was manipulating the listings on Airbnb and renting an apartment in London. He had these beautiful condo pictures. It was a good price. But what he was doing was he was saying it was a full property, and it wasn't. He was going to be living there with you.
As soon as he would book the property, he would spring this on the guests that this is a shared property—you’re here in the house with me. Of course, they don't want to do that. When they tried to cancel, he kept their money.
I took photos of how this listing was changing over time. Some days, it was listed as a full house and some days, it was listed as a shared house. When Airbnb was investigating, it happened to show up as a shared property. They said, “Oh, he's definitely telling people it's a shared property.” But he wasn't. This is too different. And then I received a third.
He's now kicked off of Airbnb. They finally reviewed his account and realized that yes, he must be doing what all these consumers are accusing him of doing. I'm sure there are more. What happened was I wrote an article about something and then I received lots of other similar complaints.
Usually, it's just about Airbnb in general. But this particular one, I was receiving complaints about the same scammer over and over. I'm like, he's just running wild. It's the same thing. It's the same property. People with kids were booking it, because it was a good deal, and it was right near the London Eye. It was a great property, but you had to live with this guy if you wanted that heck of deal, but he wasn't revealing that. Shared-space rentals are not really for families.
I don't know for anybody.
Some people like it.
That's true. It's like a hostel then.
When I wrote that story, I heard from people. Because I had the same opinion and I put that little narrative in my story, I heard from people that was like, “I like shared space. I get to know local people. We like to sit around the table and eat dinner.” That's not for me, and I don't think it's for most people.
That's how Airbnb started. It was like you're surfing from place to place and all of their properties were shared space. Now they've moved into what we know of today, but they still have shared space. Vrbo does not allow shared-space rentals. If you want to be 100% sure that you're not getting a surprise shared-space rental, Vrbo is the way to go. Airbnb has things set up, so you shouldn't ever end up in a shared-space rental, but it happens.If you want to be 100% sure that you're not getting a surprise shared-space rental, Vrbo is the way to go. -Michelle Couch-Friedman Click To Tweet
Actually, on Vrbo, I had a host who was listed on both Airbnb and Vrbo, and she forgot where she had gotten this guest from. A guest arrived in Switzerland with his family and his cat. They get into the bed and they're sleeping at 1:00 AM. She opens the door and comes in.
She had rented him at $10,000 for a month—a $10,000 apartment through Vrbo, which doesn't allow shared-space rentals, but she even intended to stay with him. It was like, “I did not book this through Airbnb. You have to get out of here.” She […], so he had to go. Vrbo, at the time, they didn't believe that she had done this. He almost lost his $10,000. Happy ending, he got his money back.
There are all sorts of scams out there in the vacation rental field as well, but they're easily avoidable as well. If you just read through all the listings, and then look for those warning signs, and stay on the platform. That’s the number one thing: stay on the platform. Make all your payments to the platform.
As long as you do that, you'll be protected if you get to the property and it doesn't exist, if it's not there. People get drawn away and save a few bucks. It's devastating when they find out they don't have a vacation rental and they don't have their money either.
That's awful. I can't imagine how stressful it would be if it happened when you're overseas also.
If you just show up at the property and it doesn't exist. I had a case recently where a hotel chain sent somebody to a property that's been closed two years. They arrived in South Africa in the evening ready to check in, and the hotel was closed. It was a transit hotel. They weren't intending to go out into Johannesburg, but they had to because the hotel was closed. It had been closed for two years.
That’s a pretty big snafu.
Yeah, it is. I'll be writing a story about that one. That is a very interesting one.
I definitely look forward to reading that one.
Yes, yeah. One thing about this job here, there's never a dull moment. Sometimes, it's very frustrating. I hear about just horrible, horrible situations. Some of them, I can't help. That's why I'm here with you. I'm writing articles because prevention is really the best way in these situations.
Once you're in the situation, a lot of these, especially if you're dealing with a straight-out criminal, a straight-out scammer, they're not going to mediate a case with me. I can't call up a scammer and say, “Hey, you did something wrong here. You took $5000 from me.” That's not going to happen, so I have nobody to mediate with.
My team and I have to have somebody, non-criminal, to deal with. Scammers aren't known to be reasonable. I've never met one yet that will actually bend to my will and give back money. I have contacted scammers. I have sent emails to scammers, but no success.
My general rule of thought when it comes to scammers is if you've lost money to a scammer, you're not going to get it back. There are some circumstances where things can happen where you can get some of the money back, but the reality is it's probably gone for good.
The worst is the scammers that are preying on elderly people who, sometimes their hearing isn't well, and they'll call them on the phone, and pretend that they're their kid, their grandson, or something like that. “I'm in jail. I need $200 in iTunes gift cards.” Granny goes out and buys these iTunes gift cards, and then all she does is scratch off the numbers and gives them to the scammer, and then her grandson will be free. It's terrible. These scammers are just horrible. They have no bounds to the type of people they will take advantage of.
Yeah. It's very unfortunate. As we wrap up here, can you tell us what the website again is? Any places people can find you on social media so they can read more about what you have?
Come to consumerrescue.org and you'll see all sorts of travel fiascos and fixes. I've fixed a lot of this stuff, my team and I. You'll learn a lot. I make sure every article that we publish has tips and guidance on how you could avoid this or where things went wrong and how they could get better.
Our main goal is to empower consumers so that you don't end up in these types of situations. If you do, then you know where to contact me. I'm there too, at consumerrescue.org/gethelp. We're there 24 hours a day.
My colleague works the night shift, I work the day shift, and we've been working together for over half a decade. We love to answer consumer questions and we directly mediate your case. If you've got a case, and a company will not respond to you, and you know you're in the right, contact me at consumerrescue.org and I'm happy to help. My colleague, Dwayne, is great. He's a great consumer advocate as well. We want to make sure that we defend consumers as much as we possibly can.
That's awesome. Social media accounts?
I am on Facebook at Michelle Couch-Friedman Consumer Rescue. It's a long name, but that's my Facebook page.
We will put it in the show notes. Just click on it.
Yeah, but it's my name, Michelle Couch-Friedman Consumer Rescue. I post our articles there, too. I love to have people ask questions there. We answer from there as well.
I have a newsletter that I send out once a week and you can subscribe to that newsletter. From our homepage, there's a subscribe button. If you put that in the show notes, that would be good, too. I send out a newsletter every week. I have links to our articles on Consumer Rescue at The Points Guy, and little tips and things maybe we've started to become aware of. We haven't really received complaints yet about it, but we're starting to see some trends in some problems or whatever. Try to give out a lot of useful information. Everything is free on our website. We don't charge anybody for anything.
That's awesome. I'll definitely sign up for myself because I'm always curious to see what the latest trends are and what's going around.
I'll sign up for yours, too.
Michelle, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today.
Thank you. I love to be here. It's great.