/ Travel & Leisure

Don’t fall for a fake holiday home

A discarded laptop on a beach

Renting a villa or cottage can be a great way to holiday abroad, but rental scams are on the rise. Are you a savvy booker or have you fallen foul of a fraudster’s holiday hoax?

When it comes to booking a holiday abroad, for peace and quiet, value for money and family friendly trips, nothing beats renting out a private holiday villa or cottage.

Back in the day (well, the 90s) my family would use catalogues from established organisations to choose a cottage or villa for a holiday. Properties were professionally vetted and photographed by the organisation. In reality, they were always as described, whether a budget option or a bit more luxurious.

Scamming holiday shoppers

As more of us scour the internet for holiday accommodation, often through a third-party website, scams are on the rise.

Worryingly, prospective holidaymakers have reported ­losing thousands of pounds by paying for completely fictitious holiday cottages through bank transfers. One Which? member described communicating with, and sending money to, a fraudster who had hacked the email account of a completely legitimate holiday rental.

In 2012 alone, Brits were swindled out of a massive £1.5m through holiday scams, with one third of the victims falling foul of holiday accommodation scams.

Where’s the blame and can you claim?

If you’ve been scammed in this way, it’s tempting to point the finger at the website you used to book the property. However, often your contract is with the owner of the property, meaning the website that facilitated the booking is not to blame.

But sometimes the scam is extreme, such as with a fake holiday home. It may be possible to build a case against a website if, for example, it could be shown that it failed to carry out appropriate checks before listing a property.

If you have fallen victim to a scam, don’t let others travel down the same route. Report the scam to the relevant organisation.

How to be scam savvy

So, if you’re planning to stay in a holiday rental, you’ve got to be savvy when booking. Pay by credit card if possible, which may allow you to claim under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act if something goes wrong.  Always try to pay the accommodation provider direct, as if payment is made to an intermediary the card provider may try to argue that Section 75 doesn’t apply.

To avoid the potential for being scammed, research the credentials of the company before making an up-front payment. Check online reviews and whether the company is a member of a trade association. Never pay into an individual’s bank account by direct bank transfer and, as I’ve already said, always pay by credit card if you can.

It pays to be alert when making a big purchase, especially over the internet. If a holiday rental is particularly cheap, available at the last minute, or you’ve been asked to pay large sums of money up front, alarms bells should ring.

Mark says:
10 May 2013

Surely giving your credit card details to a potential fraudster is not a good idea!

On the contrary, a credit card is the safest way to pay in a potentially fraudulent scenario. You have Section 75 protection as well as chargeback and greater traceability of the recipient. For the card holder, the worst that could happen is not financial loss, but an onus to fill in a form or two.

Two years ago, I became very suspicious of a British villa owner in Spain to whom I had sent a bank transfer. It turned out to be genuine, but I was constantly worried until we actually got into the villa. In the end, the villa was fantastic and we had a really nice time there; the villa owner turned out to be very honest and accommodating too.

The problem is that private landlords will almost never have credit card facilities, so the only viable method of payment is bank transfer. Other methods such as PayPal are very costly so private landlords will find them as unattractive as accepting credit cards.

We had one like that a few years ago.

It was a late booking. We had enquired about a villa that turned out to be unavailable and the owner offered us his own villa. Pictures were great and it looked too good to be true.

Emails from the owner were vague and sporadic to say the least and we had to keep chasing him up. He sent the agreement which we signed and faxed back. We had to get a bank draft and hand it over the day after we arrived and the front door key would be under a flowerpot. We really didn’t believe the villa was ours until we got inside the door and fully expected to have to find a hotel instead.

As it happened everything worked out well and we had a fantastic holiday, but if the owner had demanded the money up front, we would have pulled out as it had all the indications of a scam.

So they are not all bad. But you do have to be very careful when parting with money.