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B.C. man fighting for refund after finding someone living at Whistler vacation rental

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Update, May 30: Booking.com shared a response to this story last week. The response aired on CTV News last week, and has been added to the story below.

Edwin Mostered spent thousands of dollars booking a vacation home in Whistler, B.C., for a group skiing trip earlier this year – or so he thought.

The Vancouver Island resident and his companions arrived at the property on Feb. 24 only to find someone living inside.

Mostered believes he was caught in a travel scam, despite finding the rental listing on Booking.com and confirming the address on Google Street View.

"It was an actual address," he told CTV News. "Also, the price was right in the range where you would expect it to be."

Mostered paid 3,794 euros – the equivalent of about C$5,600 – for what was meant to be a two-night stay.

But instead of sending the money through Booking.com, Mostered said he received a message indicating the supposed owner – someone who claimed to be living in Spain – would arrange payment privately.

Mostered ended up wiring the euros, something travel experts strongly advise against.

Not long before Mostered's Whistler vacation, an Ontario man wound up in similar trouble planning a trip to Costa Rica on the same website.

Barry Goode told CTV News he found a luxury villa with a 9.8 rating based on 61 reviews, but the owner asked him to wire the $7,737 fee privately – something he, too, would quickly come to regret.

Loren Christie, a travel journalist and tourism consultant, warned that leaving the booking platform means losing many of the usual protections available to customers.

"Never, ever send the money independently," Christie said last week. "You should never have that kind of arrangement with someone, it should always be done through the booking platform."

Goode said Booking.com originally offered him $500 in compensation, but eventually promised him a full refund.

Mostered is still fighting to get his money back.

In the meantime, he's decided to speak out and share his cautionary tale to help other travellers.

"When you have the feeling, OK, this raises a few red flags? That's the moment you should stop," Mostered said.

Days before his group vacation was supposed to begin, Mostered said the purported property owner dropped communication, leading him to call Booking.com to request a refund.

"They said, 'Well, you can't do that – you have to physically go there to the house, knock on the door basically, and if they don't open we'll arrange something else for you,'" Mostered told CTV News.

The group was ultimately able to find accommodations in a nearby hotel and continue with their trip.

A week after this story was published, Booking.com provided the following response to CTV News:

"Ensuring that our platform is safe, secure and trustworthy is Booking.com’s top priority. We are actively investigating this situation and are working with the customer to ensure a full refund is issued. Online fraud continues to be an issue across many sectors and is not unique to Booking.com, though we remain fully committed to proactively helping our guests, with our customer service team available 24-7."

With files from CTV News Toronto's Pat Foran

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