11 Top Tips - Beware of holiday homes and villa rental scams
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I have had my first request for advice in a matter relating to a holiday villa scam this summer season.
This one related to a fraudulent website listing holiday homes to rent in Spain. Other frauds I have encountered involve criminals copying and posting real rental property advertisements, putting them on a different website and (usually) dropping the price to make it look like this bargain is too good to be true.
In all cases, renters were asked to pay the monies in advance by bank transfer. This makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to recover monies when it all turns out to be a fraudulent transaction. It is however quite common for foreign landlords to ask for bank transfers, as they are not always professional and do not have credit card facilities.
I have therefore compiled my top 11 tips to avoid bogus and fraudulent holiday home and villa scams:
1. Ensure the website is a legitimate entity. Just googling the name of the website with the words "complaint" next to it can produce some interesting results.
2. Legitimate holiday rental websites are not generally liable for any financial losses you have suffered as a result of falling victim to a scam, even if the criminal has used the site fraudulently. They simply provide a service for advertising holiday accommodation, and are under no obligation to carry out security checks to verify whether advertisers genuinely have holiday property available. In high profile incidences where many victims have fallen prey to the same bogus rental owner, a few holiday websites have been known to provide some compensation. However, there is no statute or regulation which makes them legally responsible, so you are reliant on the website's goodwill.
3. Some legitimate web sites have now reacted by offering insurance against bogus advertisers. Think about protecting yourself. If you are paying £6,000 for a holiday villa by bank transfer, would an insurance policy with fraud protection give you the peace of mind needed? Make sure you read the terms and conditions of the insurance policy, some have certain measures which you need to have done before they will pay out.
4. Bogus listings often copy and paste genuine accommodation details using different photographs of the villa. Use common sense. If the listing advertises an amazing price for a 16-room chateau in France, it may well be a scam. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is!
5. A con man is likely to ask for the price of the rental upfront and also ask you to send it by bank transfer to a foreign bank account. If the IBAN (International Bank Account Number) has any other suffix than "GB", consider whether there are any alarm bells ringing. Once monies have been sent to such an account, professional scammers will generally withdraw the monies within 24 hours and it is almost impossible to get your monies back. That is if the name given to you by the purported villa owner is actually legitimate.
6. If you are ever asked to send monies by Western Union or telegraph transfer, be very suspicious. These payment methods are notorious for being abused by foreign criminal gangs as there is no consumer protection whatsoever. Once the monies have been sent, anyone can collect them from a Western Union office with minimal ID. I have had several cases where obviously false passports have been used for collection from an office in London - the purported villa owner was allegedly resident in Portugal!
7. If the rental agreement or rental contract seems in any way suspicious, then listen to your instincts. A lot of scammers seem to use US templates and the contract will talk about "attorneys" and "escrow" or mention "Barristers". Barristers will not become involved in contract drafting such as your holiday agreement and "attorneys" are US lawyers.
8. The website www.ownersdirect.co.uk has a Security Centre.
9. If you want enhanced consumer protection, consider booking with members of ABTA or ATOL. You can check their websites in order to ensure the purported member is actually an official member.
10. If you are suspicious, consider obtaining the villa owner's contact details or even asking for a utility bill of the rental property. Ring the number given by the villa owner, if it is a mobile consider asking for a landline and check the prefix is correct for the country the villa owner purportedly resides in.
11. If you can, pay by UK credit card. As long as the sum you pay is over £100, you will have the protection of section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. Do not rely on Paypal buyer protection - holidays are deemed as intangible, so they are not in fact covered by PayPal Buyer Protection.
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