Thursday, August 10, 2017

Vacation Rental Booking Company Chargeback Scam

How owners of vacation rentals get robbed by booking sites

THE DYNAMICS

The private vacation rental business has grown to gigantic proportions.  Likewise several of the web based companies which offer booking and payment services for owners of such properties.  Among the most popular are Airbnb, VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner), Homeaway.com and Vacationrentals.com.  

All of these firms solicit the vacationing public online, with owner-provided photos and information of furnished and outfitted properties available for the vacationer to rent short-term.  The companies also take the booking, contract the ower, sub-contract the renter, collect credit card payments of booking fees, rent and deposits from the renter and disburse funds to the owners.  Of course, the companies keep a healthy cut in between.

Homeaway.com is a major player, which owns VRBO and Vacationrentals.com.  All three of these use one company to handle all payment transactions - Yapstone.com.  

THE SCAM

Recently property owners have seen an uptick in renters who spend time at their properties, then deny they ever did any such thing and charge back the payment made to rent the property, by denying it to their credit card issuer.  This puts then puts Yapstone in charge of dealing with contesting the case, as they act as the defacto merchant account for the property owner.

It's not too difficult to document that a renter stayed at such a property.  They execute an online agreement which provides their IP address.  They communicate online with the owner for access to the property by either keys or code locks.  Often coded locks on vacation rentals record when they arrive and depart.  They often text or email confirmations of arrival and departure, etc.  But recently, a new game appears to be afoot.

Renters are denying legitimacy of vacation rental charges to the booking companies, which pass it off to Yapstone.  Yapstone then contacts the property owner to request evidence of communications, etc. But even when the owners provide this, Yapstone has gone on to request such things as "wet signatures" and "copies of identification" of the renters.  Not only are such items not collected and not necessary to validate payment, but they are not collected by Yapstone itself when it collects the payment, and are not provided by Yapstone to the property owner from whom they demand it in order to protect the payment collected.  Yes, they actually require signatures that they themselves waived.

Owners are being charged back the credit card charges based on not being able to provide the evidence Yapstone itself fails to collect.  Further, the buyer does not contract the renter directly. Instead, the renter is contracted by Yapstone's partner, the online booking companies themselves. These companies bring the renter to the owner, not the other way around. Because the renter's agreement is not with the owner but with the online rental agency, the owner has no recourse which can be executed directly against the renter.  

Those property owners who suffer chargebacks from Yapstone have no way of knowing if Yapstone actually got paid, as the property owner is not privy to the credit card information collected by Yapstone, nor are they entitled to the information held on the borrower by Homeaway, VRBO or VacationRentals. It is conceivable that Yapstone and/or these booking companies could obtain the charge, without paying the property owner, using the smokescreen of an unverifiable phantom chargeback.

To make matters worse, these booking companies openly and knowingly operate in markets in which they know short term vacation rentals are either illegal, or require extensive licensing which their client owners do not have.  This willful blindness, coupled with the suspicious credit card activity is attracting the attention of class action firms, and as an interstate, online business is likely to do the same with the Justice Dept.

PROTECTING YOURSELF
 
Accepting renters from these services carries risk, no matter how much you document.  You might be able to reduce the risk by getting signed original confirmations of when renters arrive, together with the other verifiables mentioned above.  But even these can simply be ignored, leaving you with no way to effect recourse against a renter who had an agreement not with you the owner, but with the online broker who may not in good faith contest the chargeback.

If you've lost money in this way, get in touch.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Renters likely to fall victims of next Wall Street crash

Big landlords, big financing, big disaster.


SIMPLIFIED ANATOMY OF A COMING CRASH

The basic endeavor:
  1. Large, often publicly traded companies buy up single family tract homes by the hundreds, dominating markets for properties with proximity to certain schools, jobs and other facilities. They then rent to lower-middle class families who are typically unable to buy.
  2. As soon as they purchase the homes, the companies then sell off the future rental income of the homes to Wall Street entities.  These become bonds offered  to investors in various portfolios called tranches, after having them rated by big rating agencies.  The rating agencies offer a supposedly reliable third party opinion of the likelihood of performance of the bonds.
  3. Companies use the advanced funds generated to buy more homes, repeating the process with more and more cash to work with.
  4. They repeat the process, with portfolios growing year by year exponentially.
The dynamics of disaster:

The purchase of the homes was initially in blocks of entire defunct neighborhoods left vacant or unfinished by the last Wall Street mortgage debacle.  Those are all gone.  So now the purchases are in much smaller foreclosure blocks or even single properties, for prices closer to market, or even higher. 

Because the landlord companies obtain from Wall Street the home purchase money as well as an immediate cash payment back to them from selling the future rental income, their motivation to purchase is not true to market.  They are effectively getting what we used to call a "cash-out purchase."  The more properties they buy, the more cash they get. This is causing these home prices to rise above those which families would be willing to pay for the same properties. That's artificial demand, and that's a bubble.

The afflicted areas see a limited diversity of landlords, allowing the companies to set monopolistic rent pricing and also less desirable (shorter) lease terms.  The companies have raised the rental rates above those of the market.  Because there is virtually no regulation on these rents, there is no one to stop them.  They simply say that this is what the market demands.  But it isn't.  That market is a false bubble they are creating.

Addicted to their cash advances and locking up the local rental markets, the companies are willing to pay more and more for the homes they acquire.  This drives up the price for the real, qualified, home buying public, which is increasingly shocked at the appraisal values driven by the companies' practice.  That's another bubble.

How it's going down twisted:

The companies won't forever be able to find enough houses to buy in order to satisfy their need for advanced Wall Street cash.  They are already beginning to build homes to fill the gap, pretending as always that this is what the market demands.  In reality, it's what their cash flow demands.  The market has little to do with it.

The renters will not continue to sign on to the bad rental agreements, especially with the precarious position of the landlord companies growing ever more desperate, and outed in the press for these shenanigans.  This will cause Wall Street to pressure the companies to produce more rental agreements for the new homes, no matter what.  That's when false rental agreements will be executed and used to get more advances from Wall Street.  That's a scam.

The bonds will default, the credit agencies will again collapse, the companies will go bankrupt and their officers will skate free, probably to serve in the public sector, where some have already run. 

With billions in bond crashes, the single family home market will be dominated by bankrupt companies looking to unload, sending prices plummeting.  Those who bought in competition with the companies on the upswing will be decimated and upside down in their homes, causing a second wave of property abandonment and crash beyond the immediate areas of purchase.  

How to protect yourself:

  • Don't rent a home from any big company
  • Don't buy or rent a home in any market dominated by big landlord companies
  • Don't buy any bonds secured by single family residential rents
You may not be keeping up with the Joneses for now, but you'll be ahead of them later.

American Homes 4 Rent
Havenbrook Homes
Allianz SE
Pimco
Colony Starwood Homes
Tom Barrack
Colony Capital
rent secured bonds
rental securitization
rent securitization

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Duty Free Incarceration Scam

This brings "buyer beware" to a new level.

Reports are coming in from consulates around the world of a scam perpetrated by international airport duty free shops and local cops. Here's how it works:

While awaiting your international flight at the gates of an international airport, you go shop in a duty-free store. These are common and popular because they do not charge sales taxes to those immediately leaving the country with the goods.

You buy an expensive perfume, a box of chocolates and a carton of cigarettes. In a duty free shop, the clerk has to take your name and ticket information, as well as your passport number so that you do not have to pay the taxes. In a few airports, they event put your duty free goods in sealed bags on the ramp, so that nothing can be added to the bags before boarding. The problem is in the majority of airports, where they let you walk out carrying your goods.

The scam begins, as is so often the case, with the cashier. She either (a) adds something to your bag, such as an additional bottle of perfume, or a second carton of cigarettes. These items can easily be mistaken for promotional, as duty free stores often engage in this kind of marketing.

Next, after you have left the store and are walking around the gate area or to your flight, the sales clerk calls her accomplice, the local cops. The clerk provides your complete information and says you stole the extra bottle of perfume. The cops have an easy job of finding you at the international terminal, especially when you need your passport to get on the plane.

The finale is when they stop you, and you happily show the receipt for your goods. They then point out that you have a stolen bottle of perfume, and you are held - incarcerated.

Next comes the jail hustle, whereby, depending on the location, you are charged for air conditioning, water, a bed, visitors, phone calls, etc. You can easily spend a few thousand dollars before you get free, and even then it may be only by admitting guilt and branding yourself a thief.

This tactic has been reported in parts of east and central Asia, and Central America, but it could happen anywhere a cop can take a bribe.  Because it is so clean, easy, predictable, safe for the conspirators and profitable, I expect it could spread like wildfire.

How to stop this from happening to you:

Don't leave the duty free store unless your receipt matches exactly the items in your bag. If there are legitimate gifts, they must also be identified as such on the receipt.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Nevada Resident Agent Scam

A resident agent is simply a company or individual who acts as the resident representative of a corporation or similar entity, in the jurisdiction of incorporation. Until now.

For example, if you reside in California but you are incorporated in Nevada (as is often the case for tax and other reasons), your corporation has a resident agent. It might be your attorney, or it might be any of the many corporate services firms in the resident agency business. Typically, they will charge a fee ranging from $100 to $300 per year to act as Resident Agent.

Legally, there isn't much they have to do. The resident agent is just the person or company of record to which anyone can serve papers or formal notices meant for the corporation represented. Being available for such service, and passing on these communications, are basically all the R.A. has to do by statute. Most charge the fee and barely provide any service at all. Recently, some have become less than useless. They've begun running a scam.

There are approximately 322,000 corporations resident in the State of Nevada, each paying fees to the various service providers.  Apparently, some R.A. firms have decided they needed a bigger slice of that pie - whether they are actually asked to do it, or not. Their methods are bold and simple.


1. The Clawback

Usually when you incorporate in Nevada, you might use a service which does little else. They tend to charge much less than attorneys, and their focus on the single activity of incorporation often makes them better and more efficient at the task than is a typical law firm. Incorporation firms also act as resident agent for the companies they start, which is the real source of profits and ongoing income. Because a company has to pay a state fee to change its registered agent, the R.A. firm can count on continued business once they have it.

The claw back comes when you have replaced the R.A. firm with your own R.A, as is often the case with people who live in Nevada. Some firms are using the credit card on file for the original incorporation, and charging a resident agent fee and resident agent change fee. They are even filing the forms without any further consent of the corporation. They usually point to their original agreement to act as R.A, typically for the first year or six months, as cover for the scam.

By keeping the credit cards on file, they 'claw back' the R.A. position by billing you later without your consent. Try to cancel, and your bank will likely not believe you, as they see that the firm is in fact the R.A. for the corporation after the billing.  Banks are notoriously wilfully blind.


2. The Renewal Hustle

Some firms are enjoying a tremendous business by calling on corporate officers when their company is close to, or past its due date for filing of the annual list of officers required by the state. These R.A. firms take advantage of the situation by knowing that most of the corporations are small, closely held companies and LLC's controlled by one or two people. They call from a boiler room and use official-sounding names, often with the name of the State or County in the name of their private firm. They tell you that you are "in default" or "in violation" and that you will be fined an additional fee by the state of Nevada unless you renew right away. They quote you a price which includes the renewal (list of officers filing fee) and their own fee. You provide your credit card information, and they have you.

Once they have attain the position of R.A, you can't get away from them without paying another $60 fee to the State of Nevada. This helps keep them in the game. Unless you have someone to perform the service in Nevada for less, why would you change once they've already grabbed your cash? They bank on the confusion, misdirection, state fee structure and inept credit card banks.


The Solution - Free Resident Agent Service

In an effort to bring transparency and clean business to this service as an industry in Nevada; to expose what little value it brings in its current form to Nevada business in general, and also for the self-serving purpose of possibly generating more consulting business, in cooperation with the Legal Attache of the Consular Chamber of Commerce, I am offering to act as Resident Agent for your Nevada corporation, LLC, LLLP, Business Trust or other entity, for free

This is not a limited time or limited term offering.  You will pay nothing to have me serve as your resident agent.  So now you can afford to fire the old R.A. company and have a real, live person, with a real profile in Nevada, be your resident agent. 

If you need help getting your money back from your credit card company for a bogus resident agent payment, I'm happy to help with that too.

For details, please see http://www.motiongranted.us/

Please comment with your own experiences regarding resident agent scams, whether in Nevada or any other state or country.  We want to hear about it.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bank Instrument Leasing and Letter of Credit Scams

This one has been a long time coming.

If you have paid money to anyone for a service like this, and are still waiting for the desired result, call me in complete confidence.  I can usually help if you move quickly enough.

Bank instrument scams are usually offered to any of the following
  • Those looking for large project financing for which they can not qualify
  • Those in control where large sums of cash are held on deposit (e.g: escrow companies, corporate treasurers, etc)
  • Those who think they may have influence on those who control where large sums are held on deposit, or;
  • Those who hold themselves out to be any kind of financial broker
  • Legitimate investors seeking high returns

Bank instrument leasing scams come in a variety of looks, shapes, sizes and descriptions. The verbiage used to hook the mark into the scam can vary as well. Typical examples include:
  • HYIP or High Yield Investment Programs
  • HYTP or High Yield Trading Programs
  • Platform trading programs
  • MTN or Medium Term Note trading programs
  • Bank instrument trading programs
  • Credit enhancement programs
  • Sinking fund programs

These programs represent the most sophisticated misdirection techniques I have ever seen, as well as what I suspect are the most successful in history.  Virtually all of them involve duping the mark, and often the brokers too, into believing that a balance showing on a statement is something more than what it is.  Various real bank instruments are used for this con.  Some of these instruments are:
  • SWIFT MT799
  • SWIFT MT760
  • Letter of Credit  or LC
  • Standby Letter of Credit
  • Medium Term Banknote
  • Bank Instrument

By some estimates, this scam has existed for 30 years.  I first saw it 15 years ago, and have been approached with more of them every year since.  By now it has developed its own vernacular.  Some of the terms used by the practitioners of these scams are:
  • "Top 25 bank"
  • "Trader"
  • "Platform Trader"
  • "High Yield Investment Program"
  • "Show Money"

The specifics of each of the scams included in this breed is a thick book I've yet to write.  Let's hope it becomes history before I ever have the chance.  I will summarize for your here.

If you have paid any funds whatsoever toward the objective of leasing a bank instrument, you won't see it again.  If you see anything, it is the proceeds of others who bought into the same scam, and a perpetrator paying you to keep you quiet while he does it again.

It's a scam. 

If you have paid funds for such a service, and are getting delay after delay, feel free to reach out to me using the information to the right. 

Don't be embarrassed.  Some very sophisticated people have done the same.  

If there is any potential of getting your funds back, I can help.  Move quickly!



I offer no legal advice and charge no fee.  Nothing herein shall be considered an offer of any legal service whatsoever. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tax Prep Identity Thieves Filed for $4 Million in Tax Refunds Using Names of Living and Dead


“I am probably the single biggest threat to the U.S. government currently living and they don’t even know it.”

“I can do things to the government that will make all these terrorist organizations look like sewing circles.”

- Arizona Tax Preparer



1900 fake tax returns

$4 million in stolen refunds
170 bank accounts
175 different IP addresses
2 guys
1 still at large

Some of us never stop to think about the fact that a tax preparer has all of our critical, personally identifiable information. It's time we took notice.

Read the full story:

Identity Thieves Filed for $4 Million in Tax Refunds Using Names of Living and Dead | Threat Level | Wired.com

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Uncompetitive RFID Policy Leads to Cottage Industry

The race is on. With the near complete failure of authorities to recognize the security risks inherent in the prolific use of RFID chipping in everything from credit cards to passports, the private sector has found a cottage industry in making up the lapse in attention.

One firm leading the pack is DIFRWear. Founded in 2005, the Company's Mission is "Our mission is to give individuals the ability to maintain privacy and ensure security in a world of insecure contactless devices." Their products are designed to facilitate just that.



We invite other firms to share their approach to RFID protection as well.