Hero guide to….booking villa holidays
Holidaymakers searching for villas abroad been warned not to fall victim to scammers who advertise properties they don’t own.
Barclays says more than a third of its customers who have reported these scams have lost between £1,000 and £5,000.
The crooks take screen shots of genuine properties advertised online on various holiday websites, then re-advertise them on other genuine or bogus websites. Once they get a booking, they ask for immediate bank transfers to secure the property, then disappear as soon as they’ve got the cash.
Barclays says it has seen 196 cases of villa fraud in just 6 months and its head of digital safety Ross Martin said this is the time of year when fraudsters are looking to take advantage of holidaymakers, adding: “We must all be aware of the risks and make sure we are carrying out proper safety checks to ensure our online security and enjoy a scam-free holiday.”
A few of my friends with chalets in the Alps have spotted their own properties advertised online by strangers, and one was contacted by a holidaymaker who booked their chalet with someone they’d never heard of.
So how can I tell a real rental ad from a fake one?
Good question. Barclays has issued the following advice to help you spot a potential scam:
- Is the offer too good to be true?
If a villa is advertised at half the going rate and has great availability in peak season when everywhere else is full, this should tell you something. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
- Do an internet search on the location.
If the villa in question appears to be advertised by other companies under another name, this may also be a warning sign. Be sure to do thorough research before making any booking.
- Are they asking you to pay by transfer?
Scammers love bank transfers. The money goes straight from your account to theirs and then they take it straight out and it disappears. By the time you realise that something is wrong, they are long gone.
- Look for companies that have a real location and real phone numbers.
Be suspicious of businesses that will only communicate via email and mobile phone. It is worth checking the address or even looking at the location through an online street map. Make sure you check that the travel agent and website is certified, and that your payment is going to the right people.
- Before you commit to anything, stop and take time to think.
If it is a legitimate company, five minutes is not going to make any difference – and it could save you thousands of pounds and untold heartache.
Other tips include checking how long the villa has been advertised on that particular site, the rule of thumb being the longer the better, and searching for reviews of the villa from other holidaymakers.
Also, look out for bogus websites, which might have very similar or almost identical addresses to major sites like holidaylettings.co.uk and HomeAway.co.uk. Double check you’re on the correct website and that you haven’t accidentally ended up looking at a copycat, and if you’ve never heard of the website before, you should be on your guard.
I’m 99% sure the ad is genuine, but how do I protect my payment?
To make sure your money is safe, it’s best to pay by credit card if you can as your card issuer will then be liable for any loss. Some villa rental websites, such as HomeAway.co.uk, have a financial protection scheme and will reimburse customers for any fraud, but you should check their terms and conditions before you book.
Note that HomeAway’s ‘Book with Confidence’ guarantee is only valid for bookings made via its website with card payments and it doesn’t cover payments made via money transfer services such as Western Union or MoneyGram, which are often used by fraudsters.