/ Travel & Leisure

Con voyage: caught out by a scam holiday home let

Luxury villa

A beautiful villa by the sea – it has a private pool, air-con and only ten minutes walk to the nearest town. It’s perfect, but is it too good to be true?

Having always had success by booking accommodation through holiday lettings sites on several breaks, I’d always assumed they were a safe bet: a means to get in a well-earned break in a home-from-home and for a fraction of the cost of a package deal.

That is until I witnessed a holiday lettings scam play out before my very eyes.

Dream break

When we booked a spring break to Ibiza a few years ago, we didn’t hesitate to go through a holiday listings site. After entering our requirements and trawling through the resulting listings, we found a villa that ticked all the boxes.

And from the pictures, description and reviews, it seemed like we’d be living the dream during our stay.

Being a villa for 14 that could be split in two, we were naturally thrilled when we arrived and our host told us that the other half would remain empty for the duration of our stay.

For four days, we had the villa, the pool and the grounds in this remote island spot all to ourselves.

Fake listing

However, on our second-to-last night, our bubble was abruptly burst when a taxi pulled up with an understandably irate (in retrospect) couple and their baby.

Demanding to talk to the owner, they wanted to know what we were doing in the villa they’d rented for the week.

Shaken, we telephoned our host, who arrived with the police.

Long story short, the couple and their soon-to-be-arriving friends had unwittingly booked through a fake listings site that had cloned the details of our villa.

They’d paid the fraudsters by bank transfer and arranged to meet their ‘host’ at the airport. When the host didn’t arrive and the couple couldn’t reach him on the phone number he’d given, they decided to head to the accommodation on their own steam, where they found us and realised they’d been conned.

Fortunately, half the accommodation was empty, so their group at least had somewhere to stay, although they obviously paid twice for it. Had they rocked up in the height of season, I wouldn’t have fancied their chances in securing accommodation.

Talking to the owner later, she explained that the police had told them that they’d handled a number of similar cases the previous year. And apparently, there was nothing they could do but file a report and see if they could get the website where the villa was posted shut down.

Con voyage

Sadly, this isn’t a unique problem. According to Action Fraud, holiday accommodation fraud involving fake accommodation listings is one of the most common scams and in 2015, holidaymakers were collectively conned out of £11.5m.

As part of a Which? Travel investigation, we managed to place fake listings on Airbnb.co.uk and Holidaylettings.co.uk. In both cases we posted a message advising users to email the owner directly for a discount – a common trick that could lead to a bank-transfer scam, and wholly against the sites’ rules.

Update: 22 June 2017

If you haven’t booked your summer holiday accommodation yet, you might want to be careful with where you book it.

According to a new investigation by ITV Tonight, thousands of British holidaymakers have been duped by a recent rise in fake accommodation listing sites.

These fake sites steal images from genuine letting sites and sell on phantom breaks to unsuspecting holidaymakers.

The show, airing tonight on ITV at 7.30pm, uncovered more than 10 fake sites that had stolen over 10,000 images of villas from legitimate sites.

These were easily searchable on the internet., but have since been taken down. Police, however, have said there is no legislation that allows them to close such sites down quickly.

Have you or someone you know ever been the victim of a fake holiday listing? What happened?

Comments
Profile photo of NFH
Member

Sadly the only way to be sure of avoiding this type of fraud is through sites like Airbnb, which have their own problems such as drip pricing of hefty fees. Even then, user accounts can be hacked by fraudsters, although you won’t lose your money.

Profile photo of NFH
Member

I should clarify that with Airbnb you won’t lose your money if you pay money to Airbnb. If a scammer asks you to pay money to someone other than Airbnb, then of course you can lose your money.

But why should we have to pay hefty extra fees in order to receive this protection?

Profile photo of PatrickTaylor
Member

” As part of a Which? Travel investigation, we managed to place fake listings on Airbnb.co.uk and Holidaylettings.co.uk. In both cases we posted a message advising users to email the owner directly for a discount – a common trick that could lead to a bank-transfer scam, and wholly against the sites’ rules.”

And so what happened next?

Profile photo of Melanie Train
Member

Hi Patrick,

The full story is in the link in the sentence: ‘As part of a Which? Travel investigation, we managed to place fake listings on Airbnb.co.uk and Holidaylettings.co.uk.’

Thanks,

Mel

Member
patrick ryan says:
29 April 2017

I. Want. MUST. .HAVE
“NO. NO. .NO. .NO. .NO. .no work.

I am .educat ted.

I Will HAVE. .

Member
Michael Costen says:
29 April 2017

Unfortunately this type of scam is going to get worst. The web site companies have got greed by not only charging the actual home owner but also the holiday maker who books a holiday with them outrageous fees and commission. These fees can add up to several hundred

Member
Suzanne says:
29 April 2017

This is why I will put a deposit up to a year ahead on a rental with no problem but I will never pay the outstanding balance until I am actually inside the rented accommodation and face to face with the owner.

Member
Niamh says:
4 May 2017

As an owner of a holiday property though, this can be high risk. I have had “guests” do runners having caused damage. I now insist on full payment 45 days in advance AND a refundable damage deposit. This has worked well for the previous 5 years

Member
Paul Mc says:
1 May 2017

Myself and family have rented villas with private pools across Europe both privately and with recognised operators for over 25 years, I have to say our last private rental which was in Crete was scary as most owners require the full balance at least four weeks prior to arrival, I did on this occasion pay directly into a British bank with the name of the owner, so a little reassurance but paying £2900 plus to unknown people
is a nerve racking time. I as the renter am more than willing to prove who I am so whats the problem in the owner doing the same?.
I believe payment to solicitors or other respected third parties should be made easier and less costly to do to give all participants a restful nights sleep.
I am also now of the opinion that everyone is out to scam you unless you can, or are able to find a way to prove otherwise, this is what the world has come to.
Paul

Member

If anyone asks you to pay by bank transfer you should twig straight away there is something wrong. Ask can you pay by credit card if the say they are reluctant to accept cards then its a big no no.