21 Replies Latest reply: Sep 17, 2012 3:55 PM by old_frog RSS

    Reporting a listing with false information?

    swiss-house Contributor

      What is the best way to report a listing that has false information?  Is there a special form or link, or does one just go through the regular customer support screens?

       

      And I guess as an add-on question - what are the chances of HomeAway trying to validate the reported mis-information and taking action to correct it?

       

      In this circumstance, I've noticed a number of listings that report our town as their location (we are have the highest rated ski slopes and waterparks in our region) but they are really 2 or 3 towns away, with typical travel times over over 20 minutes for guests.  In fact, a number of the reviews for some of these houses reference how they felt misled about the house's location. 

       

      There are HomeAway locations for the towns these listings are actually in, they just chose to mis-represent their location and turn off the display on map feature so guests can't tell they're getting snookered.

        • Re: Reporting a listing with false information?
          susaninrehoboth Senior Contributor

          Swiss House,

           

          I hope you have better luck with this than I did.

           

          Listings for my town that are not in my town are one of my pet peeves. Several people in the same large development in Millsboro, DE have their listing grouped with Rehoboth Beach. There is a Millsboro category and there are listings there for this same development, as they should be. I've contacted VRBO numerous times about this with no response. 

           

          The listing should be with the town that corresponds to the zip code of the listing location. To not make it mandatory to list where the property really is is bad business policy-both for owners and those looking to rent.

          • Re: Reporting a listing with false information?
            scottr Active Contributor

            Let me know if you get any help from HA.  I reported a listing that was misrepresenting their weekly rate.  Instead of using the price for the week (like everyone else does), they were using the nightly rate as it would be for a weeks stay (eg. weekly rate divided by 7).  I never got a response from HA but about a month later a got an automated response from HA asking if my concern had been addressed adequately. I responded that I never had a response and that the issue still existed (still does last time I looked).   That was the last I heard on my concern.

            • Re: Reporting a listing with false information?
              island4 Contributor

              As I have said in other posts, my issue is a dumping of condos in the house section. This jumped the number of listings in my area fro 12 to 116 in a 5 day period.  HA blames the PM's for the mis-information, but where are their checkpoints? I, too, hope you have better luck then I have had. I first reported the problem 8/30, was given a case number, and 3 reps later have had no success in removing these listings.

              • Re: Reporting a listing with false information?
                crescentbeach4u Community All-Star

                I have over 90 listings at my beach which are not actually there.  VRBO has a policy which actually states that as long as the lister puts the actual location somewhere on the listing (it doesnt specifically say how) then they can do it until the cows come home.  What the company is doing in my area is putting the google map location but it is under a heading of my beach community right under the Google map.  Very slick of the property management company.  To top it off this property management company also runs a parrallel legitimate add of the same property in the proper site. 

                 

                But then again, this validates how desirable my beach area is for renters that do their homework!

                  • Re: Reporting a listing with false information?
                    sage Community All-Star

                    this property management company also runs a parrallel legitimate add of the same property in the proper site

                    And that is why HA endorses these deceptions.  One property with multiple listings means more money for HA in the short run.  However, it undermines the credibility of HA, VRBO, et al, and will alienate renters who become frustrated by the misrepresentations.  The HA stockholders should be concerned about renters fleeing to more reliable sites, and the exodus of owners that will follow, but I suppose any informed investors are just hoping for a short term gain, and then plan to bail out.  And as long as management have good severance packages, why should they care?

                  • Re: Reporting a listing with false information?
                    swiss-house Contributor

                    I haven't tried to submit this "erroneous listing" yet - I was only looking for the proper avenue to report it and some insights into whether it would be reviewed and corrected by HA.

                     

                    The answer appears to be that HA does not consider it an important enough issue to create a reporting mechanism, nor based on history would it do anything about it.  In fact, from the reports here it is not only rampant and overlooked, but seemingly encouraged.

                     

                    Sigh.

                     

                    It's one thing when we don't like the direction the company is going with a software release, or how some added security steps might change our workload.  It's our choice as informed buyers of their product to go elsewhere (although there are few elsewheres to go) with our subscription money.  But the users of the published information, the renters, DON'T qualify as informed users - they implicitely trust that the listings have been vetted by someone to at least some degree - that's why they use HA or VRBO instead of Craigslist to find a vacation home.

                     

                    It should be as important to HA to make sure at least the basics about a listing (i.e. location and published prices) are validated as it is to minimize the chance of an owner being impersonated in a scam rental to an unsuspecting renter.  Both involve purposely misleading a renter into sending money for something that is not as it is described.  And both will eventually discredit HomeAway and the industy overall.

                     

                    I know the HA leadership is trying to keep a lot of plates in the air right now, but this is one issue that should be seen as foundational, and worth putting significant thought (and staff time) into addressing appropriately.

                      • Re: Reporting a listing with false information?
                        Contributor

                        I contacted customer support.  Six days later here is the response I received (see below).  My bet is that they have closed this ticket and nothing will ever be done.

                         

                        Randy

                         

                         

                        Dear Randy,

                         

                        Thank you for contacting HomeAway Customer Support. We appreciate that you've taken the time to contact us regarding these listings. We will research the location of the listing and contact the owner should we find there is an abuse of our policy.

                         

                        If you need further assistance, please feel free to visit our Help site at:
                        http://help.homeaway.com/?brand=homeaway

                         

                        Thank you for using HomeAway— the world's most trusted online vacation rental marketplace.

                         

                        Best regards,

                         

                        B
                        Customer Support Representative
                        HomeAway.com

                          • Re: Reporting a listing with false information?
                            swiss-house Contributor

                            Randy,

                             

                            How long ago was that, and did you get a chance to re-check the listing you reported to see if there was any change?

                             

                            TC

                             

                            If there was no change, then the irony of then tag-line:

                            "Thank you for using HomeAway— the world's most trusted online vacation rental marketplace."

                            is overwhelming....

                              • Re: Reporting a listing with false information?
                                Contributor

                                Last Tuesday is when I reported it and this morning is when I get the response from HA.  Just checked and nothing has changed.  There is actually a seperate group just for their condo resort but looks like they prefer to advertise in our section.  Looks like property manager for some and maybe individual for some others.  It all started when they implemented bundling.  These are new listings to HA.

                                 

                                To be honest with you I am getting tired of even talking with HomeAway.  It is obvious to me that they need some new management/staff.  They should man up and admit this last bundle implementation was a total disaster - bad programming, bad or no testing, bad communications, bad documenation, bad change management, bad implemenation!  I am really starting to feel bad for Shannon and a few others that are trying to make us feel like everything is ok!  Can you imagine being in their position and trying to keep making excuses for all the screw ups!

                                 

                                The real sad thing is I don't see it getting any better.  It would be nice to hear from top management to admit their mistakes and commit to us to make things better.  We can only dream!

                                 

                                Randy

                            • Re: Reporting a listing with false information?
                              sage Community All-Star

                              I think there is a very real potential that the Federal Trade Commission would find at least some of the misrepresentations regarding location and nature of the property to be violations of its Truth in Advertising rules.  When, for example, a property is prominently listed in a highly desirable geographic location, and the prospective renter must dig for the true location, and may only recognize the difference when they arrive at the given address and discover it to be many miles from the named beach, that deception is likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances; and is "material" - that is, important to a consumer's decision to select that rental rather than one accurately described.

                               

                              When HA policies tolerate, and even encourage, deceptive advertising, the FTC might express its disapproval to HA in addition to the owner/property manager.

                               

                              Many, perhaps all, states have some version of an unlawful or unfair trade practices act that may prohibit many of these deceptive listings.  For example, Oregon says it is unlawful to "Use[] deceptive representations or designations of geographic origin in connection with real estate, goods or services" or to "Represent[] that real estate, goods or services have . . . characteristics, . . . benefits, . . . or qualities that they do not have."  ORS 646.608(1)(d)-(e)  These laws typically allow private citizens to initiate actions, not just the state attorney general, and allow an award of attorney fees to a prevailing plaintiff.  If one is having difficulty competing with the liars, it may be worth consulting an attorney who does consumer protection work to see if the attorney might pursue the matter on a contingent fee basis.

                                • Re: Reporting a listing with false information?
                                  New Member

                                  I had to step in today as I read these forums daily and am a frequent renter.  As an avid traveler I have run across this problem up in the NE states.  In searching further I find this problem has infested everywhere.  You mentioned beaches so I looked up Florida listings and did not have enough paper to write them down.  There are many properties listed on VRBO portraying to be in a location or beach as you mentioned yet they are actually somewhere else.

                                   

                                  Florida owners should review Federal Trade Commission and Florida Statutes as listed below.  I believe they would have a clear opinion in their favor:

                                   

                                  1. 817.41 Misleading advertising prohibited.

                                  (1)  It shall be unlawful for any person to make or disseminate or cause to be made or disseminated before the general public of the state, or any portion thereof, any misleading advertisement. Such making or dissemination of misleading advertising shall constitute and is hereby declared to be fraudulent and unlawful, designed and intended for obtaining money or property under false pretenses.

                                   

                                  1. 501.204 Unlawful acts and practices.

                                  (1)  Unfair methods of competition, unconscionable acts or practices, and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce are hereby declared unlawful.

                                  (2)  It is the intent of the Legislature that, in construing subsection (1), due consideration and great weight shall be given to the interpretations of the Federal Trade Commission and the federal courts relating to s. 5(a)(1) of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. s. 45(a)(1) as of July 1, 2006.

                                    • Re: Reporting a listing with false information?
                                      swiss-house Contributor

                                      Odd - as I wrote my earlier response, I went back and deleted about half of what I had written because I was concerned it might be considered too provocative.  But the posts above re: trade laws and states' attorney generals gives me confidence that this is an issue important enough to make sure HomeAway is listening and decides to take action. 

                                       

                                      The portions of my post that I decided not to include earlier dealt with the stock market, and dove-tail very closely with the FTC observations above.

                                       

                                      HomeAway is now a public company, and is subject to the whims of the investor community.  And while the investor community is typically driven by the promise of profits, it is even more driven by the fear of loss of investment.  Should a renter's ire over a mis-represented property catch the attention of a state's attorney general, the negative publicity (as well as the potential loss of consumer confidence) could wreak havoc on HA's stock value.  And that's not good.

                                       

                                      This is a ticking time bomb for HA, one potentially more explosive than the owner impersonation scams currently at the forefront of the development cycle. 

                                       

                                      I know that HA already has some practices in place to weed out falsified entries, and to a certain extent it has depended on the high bar for entry (high fees) to keep out the riff-raff.  But obviously something about those practices and barriers has changed recently.  They are no longer up to the task.

                                       

                                      A one-time catch up project is needed, and it can be addressed fairly easily with a small cadre of temps and some simple SQL queries: start with all the entries that suppress showing their exact location on maps, add those whose mailing zip codes don't match the town field, and also include mass entries with similar descriptions filed in different locations.  A separate query for misleading rates could be run, again with simple SQL queries and a bunch of temps to evaluate the legitimacy of the results.  Not all of the results are falsified entries - there are good reasons to suppress the display of a home on a map or for a mailing address to be in a different town.    But these are certainly the tools that a disreputable lister would use to disguise their fraud.  Some research may require contacting Homeowners / Property Managers to ask for explanation, with the threat of cancellation without refund if they further falsify their claims to the HA representative who contacts them.  Ultimately, ALL entries should be checked for falsified locations and pricing, but those who meet criteria similar to that above should be evaluated first.

                                       

                                      And of course, once cleaned up, HA must improve the way it evaluates new (and updated) entries to keep the content quality high going forward.  Note I also include updates to existing entries, as it is a common practice in many industries for cheaters to create legit-sounding entries to get past initial filters, then go back and edit the approved entries with replacement data.

                                       

                                      It's more work.  For everyone.  It may even extend the posting (as well as updating) approval process timespan from hours to a day or so.  Hopefully we, as Owners, are willing to accept that inconvenience if it results in a more level playing field for us to compete upon.

                                       

                                      And when it's all said and done, it's not only a smart thing to protect the value (and tag-line!) of the company, it's also the right thing to do from a purely ethical standpoint.

                                • Re: Reporting a listing with false information?
                                  beth HomeAway Employee

                                  Thanks for letting us know your concerns on this issue. Our policy is to allow members to place their listing under the city heading of their choice (within reason), as long as they make the actual location of the property clear within their listing. The only information we have about a property is what the owner supplies to us. Our primary goal is for travelers to have the information they need to make an informed decision.

                                   

                                  It has been our experience that owners are not trying to intentionally deceive the traveler, but merely wanting to generate inquiries for their property. Once the traveler contacts the owner and details are explained, the traveler is made aware of the exact location and can decide if they’d like to stay outside the main city they are inquiring about.

                                   

                                  With that said, we do have policies and protection for travelers using our site, and do take action if certain standards are not met by our members. Here is the link for more information.

                                   

                                  Prior to adding new locations (or sub-nodes) to our website, we will research various sources to verify a location. We will often use the local Chamber of Commerce site, local realty websites, and general Internet mapping sites (i.e. Mapquest, Google Maps™, etc.), so that when travelers are searching the internet for locations, they will be able to search our site using the same terms to find listings.

                                   

                                  Thanks,

                                  Beth

                                  HomeAway.com

                                    • Re: Reporting a listing with false information?
                                      swiss-house Contributor

                                      Beth,

                                       

                                      Thanks for the clarification on HomeAway's policies.

                                       

                                      However, I think it's pretty clear that many (myself included) feel that it is a bit of a cop-out, and I believe if ever taken to court by a lawyer or attorney general, they will feel so too. 

                                       

                                      To claim the moniker "the world's most trusted online vacation rental marketplace" sets the bar quite high.  It implies that renters can trust that a 2 bedroom condo listed on Pawleys Island in the headline can trust that it's really at Pawley's Island, not two blocks inland as is later disclosed in the densely packed text of the description.  It is unrealistic, if not insulting, to expect that a renter must specifically ask "Is this house REALLY on Pawley's Island" when making an inquiry.  What does that say about HomeAway's claim "the world's most trusted online vacation rental marketplace" if confirming this most basic piece of information should be necessary for each rental?

                                       

                                      There ARE dishonest owners and property managers out there, looking for any hook they can use to draw paying customers to their property.  They WILL mis-represent their property locations by placing them in incorrect locations.  Examples in the HomeAway and VRBO listings are not hard to find.  To not pro-actively search out and remove/correct these incorrect entries is borderline negligent.  And to not apply penalties to the listers only invites them to return to challenge you again.

                                       

                                      We've made an effort to make HomeAway aware of the problem.  If a disgruntled renter decides to involve the court system and looks towards HomeAway's deep pockets for restitution and punative damages, the company will be hard pressed to defend itself.

                                      • Re: Reporting a listing with false information?
                                        carol Premier Contributor

                                        Beth, the link you provided is a set of suggestions for how travelers can protect themselves;  all very useful  but I was hoping for rules/standards VRBO might have established for owners.   Is there anything like that?

                                        • Re: Reporting a listing with false information?
                                          sage Community All-Star

                                          The only information we have about a property is what the owner supplies to us.

                                          HA may also have information from guests who complain of misrepresentations or from other owners/managers who are concerned that their properties are at a competitive disadvantage due to flagrant misrepresentations. 

                                           

                                          I recall seeing in the forum an owner mention that there were several properties claiming to be located in her highly desirable destination village, but which actually were 30 miles, and several villages, away.  To "make the actual location of the property clear within their listing" is a poor substitute.  A common rule is that the correct information must be displayed as prominently as information that may be misleading.  One may not have a title 'Waikiki Beachfront Luxury Penthouse' and then reveal in smaller print burried in the body of the listing that it actually is a shabby room in a basement some five miles inland.  If travelers find that they must scrutinize every word of the fine print of listings, and after making inquiries they must vet the responses to weed out those which had misrepresented themselves, those travelers will become frustrated and will take their business elsewhere.

                                          It has been our experience that owners are not trying to intentionally deceive the traveler, but merely wanting to generate inquiries for their property.

                                          I am sorry, but I find this statement incredible.  Certainly owners/managers want to generate more inquiries, but to resort to deceptions lure gullible travelers is not innocent conduct.  Some misrepresentations may be purely subjective--one man's castle may be another man's cottage.  Statements that some people might deem deceptive are mere puffery.  I do not see people in the forum concerned with those.  But other misrepresentations can only be viewed as intentional actions done "to generate inquiries" that they would not receive if the traveler was apprised of the truth.

                                           

                                          The link for more information contains a link to a disclaimer which includes "We do not verify the accuracy of information contained in the listings on our sites . . . ."  That disclaimer might be sufficient if HA truly was neutral and unaware of misrepresentations, but when policies seem to encourage and reward misrepresentations, and substantial evidence of misrepresentations is ignored, a defense based on ignorance seems disingenuous at best.

                                        • Re: Reporting a listing with false information?
                                          crescentbeach4u Community All-Star

                                          Beth, As requested I will also send these in by getting a ticket number.  I really appreciate your teams effort in using Google maps.  I too used the same process you say your group is using.  It was very simple to do.  Unfortunately I came up with over 55 locations not on Crescent Beach and I am not even half way through.  Actually 3/4 of all listings in my area are not were they are supposed to be.  I am going to send all of these in and I know the canned answer I am going to get back (rules on multiple listings....I have already read it) but it should be noted that Sage has some very good points above.

                                           

                                          Again, thanks for your help.

                                           

                                          Photo of properties not on Crescent Beach.JPG

                                          • Re: Reporting a listing with false information?
                                            New Member

                                            So what happens where HomeAway (in this case VRBO lists properties from other HomeAway sites) and puts them in the wrong location?  Who accepts responsibility for that?  If you check out the original listings on the originating site, they show in the correct location - no problem there, but on VRBO they magically show up in the wrong area as 'Additional properties from other Homeaway family sites'.  To make matters worse, the potential guest doesn't even have to actively click on a link to make these other properties appear (as does happen on other pages for other nearby locations) VRBO just lists them right there.  The owners are not incorrectly listing the location, VRBO/HomeAway is.

                                             

                                            So will HomeAway disavow themselves of any responsibility for lying to their site users in this situation?  Or will they actually take some responsibility and fix the problem?

                                             

                                            Based on their rather tragic record of using their market position to continually abuse their paying customers more and more, I highly doubt it.  Boy would I love to be pleasantly surprised and proven wrong!

                                              • Re: Reporting a listing with false information?
                                                swiss-house Contributor

                                                I'm not so concerned about the locations of "suggestive sell" during inquries (although I absolutely dislike them being there at all - but PLEASE start a new thread if you want to complain about that!)

                                                 

                                                My concern is when the HTML title, H1 / H2 text and breadcrumbs (especially the breadcrumb!) has the wrong city or attraction. Renters MUST be able to depend up this navigation path when choosing properties - and this is apparantly composed of the values that the owner puts in the HA / VRBO location fields when creating / updating their entry.

                                                 

                                                Having these wrong is what dimishes HomeAway's value add to customers and puts them at civil court risk.

                                                 

                                                --------------------------------------------

                                                 

                                                For those wondering what the terms above mean

                                                Title = The words that appear when you hover your mouse over your browser tab (typically).  These are also the words used by Google to decide what search terms your page should be based on.

                                                 

                                                H1 / H2 - These are first level and second level Header classifications for text - usually the largest text on a page.  They are what catches a reader's eye first and also what Google uses to decide what search terms to associate with a page.

                                                 

                                                Breadcrumb: This is the "path" that got a search or drill-down to a specific pages, showing all the levels above it.   It displays right above all the Tweet / Google +1 / Facebook Share, etc buttons near the top of a HomeAway page.  For one of my propreties, the breadcrumb is:

                                                Vacation Rentals >World >USA >Pennsylvania >Poconos >Camelback >Tannersville  >Rental XXXXXX