Booking scame

Booking scams

If the idea of not having the hoo-ha of hotel neighbours and not having to share a pool full of scores of children is appealing, then renting a villa might suit you best. The internet has also meant that property owners have been able to conveniently list their villas on websites that connect you directly to the customers. Cutting out the middle man, holiday villa rentals offer a cost effective, independent option that has been especially popular amongst large groups wanting added privacy.

It’s no wonder that the holiday home rental market is said to be one of the fastest growing sectors within the travel scene.

Lured by last-minute deals and as an economical alternative, many villas at first glance appear incredibly appealing, with the added peace of mind that they are on trusted websites used for villa rentals. But as usual, there is a problem with people willing to take advantage and scam thousands of holiday makers out of their money.

With so many properties listed on the site – the question posed, is what security measures are taken from the rental sites to make sure all the properties are legitimate? Many such sites fall criticism, as it has been alleged that security and background checks haven’t always been up to scratch leaving holiday makers vulnerable to fraud. Most websites are merely only offering advertising to the villas rather than acting as an agent, and as such, their responsibilities are limited when it comes to issues and complaints. Therefore, there is a greater risk of fraud, and the worst cases have included luxury properties being offered for rent that do not even exist – known as ‘phantom villas’.

How it happens, is that holidaymakers contact the ‘owner’ through the website, to start negotiations. The problem is, the ‘owner’ is often a con-artist who has no property to offer at all. When discussing details – they have been prompted to pay deposits, and even the full amount usually via a money wiring service rather than a bank transaction.

For many, this has not raised eyebrows as some customers even felt reassured, being led to believe that it is a genuine individual advertising their property, as opposed to an agent who would use a merchant account. Customers have also received official looking contracts to give the impression that everything is above board – however, this is a technique only used to gain trust.

The scam has been widespread throughout Europe, notably Cyprus and Spain where renting a luxury villa with a private pool over looking wineries is a popular option. One case of a phantom villa in Spain was recorded that affected hundreds, with customers thinking they were booking a five bedroom villa with a pool. The fraudsters were expected to have been able to successfully cheat holidaymakers out of over £500,000.

Not only are they robbing hundreds of holiday makers out of their trip, but they have also had a damaging impact on businesses as well. Some rental providers have had their properties duplicated on other websites such as Gumtree and Craigslist. Images and information has been copied directly off their websites and uploaded. With the reputable name of the company, even cautious customers have been stung, being lead to believe they were dealing directly with the owner.

There has also been a rise in a new trend of frugal traveller, and a number of home swapping websites have started to become very popular. People that leaving their home for a period of time have the option to rent it out, or take part in a direct swap with someone in a similar position. This budget-friendly, social style of travelling does however pose new threats, as even holiday makers prepared to do their homework, could have additional hurdles to jump in ensuring their security.

For most though, research has also shown that many internet users are failing to check website credentials. To protect yourself when booking villas, it is advised to follow these guidelines:

– Look to see how long the property has been advertised on the website. The longer it has been there, the better

– Look on review sites (if applicable) for what other people have said – TripAdvisor for example is a good resource for previous peoples’ experience.

– In some cases, the location of the property has been located on dusty wastelands. Use Google Maps to check if the location looks like it should.

– Don’t be afraid to discuss details with the owner. It will give you peace of mind, and they should be knowledgeable about the local area if prompted.

– Reputable holiday owners should accept bank transfers that would be easier to trace. Credit cards are generally a safer way to pay, giving customers more protection against fraud as some have struggled to claim compensation.

Where: Phantom villas are a problem in a range of places. In Europe they have been common across the Mediterranean, in places such as Cyprus and Spain. In Asia, they have been a problem in tourist beach resorts in countries such as Bali and Thailand. In the USA they have also been common around the Florida area, where villa rental is a popular option for families visiting theme parks.

Date posted: 29th August, 2012

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