Lake houses. Beaches. Mountains. Camping. Everyone has their favorite form of vacation. The best way for them to decompress, relax, and get away from the busyness of life. But as people head out to their go-to destination, fraudsters are still doing what they do best. Fraud never takes a vacation, and this is a story about how mine was almost cut short this year.
Rental Gone Wrong
Every two years my family gathers at Flathead Lake in Montana for a reunion. We normally rent a house on the lake, get a boat, drink, fish, and relax. Not a worry in the world. Well, that is the normal routine. This year however was a bit different. Our vacation was almost ruined before it even began, all because someone tried to take advantage of COVID to defraud us out of the home we had booked over a year earlier.
We were supposed to check in on a Sunday, and in preparation everyone began flying in from across the country. My wife and I arrived on Friday night to spend time with my aunt and uncle that I hadn’t seen for years. The rest of the family slowly started arriving throughout the day on Saturday and the week we had all been waiting for was just about to begin. We reminisced on past experiences, things we were looking forward to, and listening to the first-timers gasp at the beautiful views (If you haven’t been to the Flathead valley, I highly recommend it).
As the sun rose, and the light began stretching across the lake our family started getting ready to move into the house. Typically we aren’t able to move in until later in the afternoon so we will drop off our luggage in order to make room for the mountains of groceries required to feed 15 people for the week. The family piled into our cars and we set off for the lake house.
As we arrived at the house we were greeted by the owners with a puzzled look. “It’s nice to see you again, but we thought you had rescheduled for summer 2021.” they said. We all looked at each other worried and mentioned that we wouldn’t be here today if we had rescheduled. Panic began to take over my grandmother who rejoices in planning these events for our family. She started questioning herself and if she had made a mistake.
“We received a call from your uncle”. They said to my grandmother. “He said that due to COVID you were rescheduling for next summer and you wouldn’t be coming this year”. Problem is, she doesn’t have an uncle. As we began to dig deeper the owners mentioned that they received a phone call from a man who mentioned that he was handling the details for the vacation and that unfortunately it wasn’t going to happen this year.
We told him that this definitely wasn’t the case, and we had no idea who the suspicious caller was. We wouldn’t have been at their doorstep if we had truly rescheduled. Luckily, the week hadn’t been rebooked until recently and the new renters wouldn’t be arriving until Tuesday. The owners agreed that we would still have the home for the week, and they quickly cancelled the other booking. Our vacation was saved, but I had some new content to share.
Social engineering is extremely common and occurs everywhere. It is often assumed to be confined to stealing information, but social engineering can happen in almost any situation. Including stealing a family vacation.
Word to the wise: Trust but verify. If a third party is making a claim, you can never go wrong going to the source. Always follow-up with the first party and verify.
Word to the fraudster: This was a lazy attempt. If you hadn’t stopped halfway through the scheme you may have been successful in commandeering our vacation. But you forgot that you hadn’t communicated the cancellation to our family. Did you think we wouldn’t show up?
Never stop chasing checkmate.