The holiday villa renting season 2016 was booming again. This also means a bigger amount of victims of holiday booking fraud. Holiday booking fraud is when people hand over their money, only to discover the holiday accommodation or flight they paid for does not exist. In 2015 the reported amount of holiday booking fraud was 11.2 million pounds (12.9 million euros) in the UK only. This was an increase of 425 percent, given that the London Police reported an amount of 2.2 million pounds (2.5 million euros) on reported holiday booking fraud in 2014.
Why is it that so many people become victim of scams when booking a holiday, flight or accommodation? Firstly, most people believe that they are wise enough and won’t easily fall into a scam like holiday fraud. This makes them less aware since they assume they will automatically detect fraud. There are also people that don’t expect online fraud and therefore can become an easy victim for online criminals. Another reason is that online criminals are becoming more and more sophisticated in their scams.
This is why it is so important to know what types of online holiday booking fraud exist.
In this article we will focus on the holiday accommodation fraud and how to protect yourself and/or avoid becoming a victim of it.
Types of holiday accommodation fraud:
1) Fake advertisement
Believe it or not, online criminals pay a lot of money to find and target potential victims. The advertisement has mainly two forms. One is where online criminals place advertisements on platforms like Facebook, Gumtree and Craigslist. This is when the potential victim is led to fake websites of the online criminals. The other form of fake advertisement takes place on big online holiday accommodation platforms (like Homeaway or Ownersdirect). Online criminals will act like holiday home owners and offer potential victims the possibility to rent a holiday villa or apartment directly. The majority of the holiday accommodation fraud takes place on these platforms and is sometimes very difficult to identify. Online criminals steal pictures of existing holiday villa’s and advertise with them on these websites; pretending like they are the owner, which of course is not the case.
2) Fake website
On a fake website the potential victim will often see amazing offers which are too good to be true. The domains will be slightly different or have a different extension (for example instead of .COM or .CO.UK the website will have an .ORG extension).
Follow your gut instinct
One of the biggest things you should rely on is your instinct. If you find a suspicious e-mail, a page that is not reliable or an advertisement too good to be true, then this has a reason. You should do extra research on the property or rental company and not leave it at that. If you stay suspicious pick another company or property to spend your holidays.
Google is your friend
Use Google and verify all the information you receive from the owner or holiday accommodation company. This includes the address (with google maps and street view) and the pictures (with google image search). If the address that you received is in no way similar to the pictures you have of the accommodation on google maps this should raise suspicion.
Call the owner or rental company by telephone to speak with them. A professional company dedicated to renting holiday accommodations will always speak English and be available during business hours, if this is not the case then you have another indication that something might be wrong.
Pay by credit card
The easiest way to avoid becoming a financial victim of holiday accommodation fraud is paying by credit card. By the Consumer Credit Act 1974 credit card companies are obliged to refund any misuse, like fraud, of the card to UK consumers. Criminals normally don’t offer payment by credit cards.
The bank account
If your holiday accommodation is in Spain and you should wire the money to a Spanish bank account. A request to transfer money to a bank account in another country should raise suspicion.
There are no discounts when booking early in the year
Something that is very common in online scams, is that online criminals offer victims a discount if they book early and pay the full amount at once. Discounts up to 30% or 40% percent in high season don’t exist and is a big indication of fraud.