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When the Dream Vacation Goes Up In Smoke

· Travel,Litigation,93A,Contracts,Internet fraud

A dream vacation. House on the beach in Placencia, Belize. Beds for 14 people. Personal chef. A car to tour Belize.

To reserve the "Jewels of Belize" for his family vacation, Peter Haim made a $46, 565 deposit. Soon after he did, though, the supposed home renters disappeared, along with his money.

It turned out, the house did not even exist. Haim had been scammed.

Haim tried to get his money back through HomeAway.com, the website that had posted the house. But HomeAway would only point to its $1,000 maximum refund for those who had been victims of "internet fraud" through the site.

Dissatisfied with the meager response, Haim sued in federal court in Boston, using the Massachusetts consumer fraud statute, M.G.L. § 93A, among others. Haim claimed that HomeAway had misled him by touting its "guarantee" against fraud.

By holding out that the properties were "guaranteed," Haim argued that HomeAway was holding out that it did some sort of pre-screening or verification of the properties, and it was clear that none of that happened.

The district court threw Haim's case out, and Haim quickly appealed. This week, in Haim v. HomeAway, Inc., the First Circuit agreed with the District Court.

The only "guarantee" that HomeAway was giving consumers, the appeals court held, was that if they were ripped off, they could get $1,000 back from the website. If the guarantee did not explicitly promise more protection from fraud, the court ruled, then it could not be held to that later.

Moral of the story: Be very careful about sending large amounts of money over the internet to businesses you are not certain of. And if you are ripped off, see a lawyer about what your rights to get your money back. 

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