Avoiding Holiday Home Rental Scams
January and February are amongst the busiest months of the year for the tourism industry, with everyone looking forward to the coming summer and school holidays throughout the year. This is why it’s so important to make sure you don’t fall victim to some of holiday home scams that have been hitting headlines in recent years.
The trend, that has been reported on by many publications including The Times, The Guardian, Huffington Post and The Telegraph in the last year, seems to be traceable back to some popular holiday home listing sites, that serve as an advertisement platform for individual owners, rather than as an agency.
Scams appear to be taking place in the form of fake listings being created – either completely from scratch, or by directly copying content and images from an existing, legitimate website – or, more disconcertingly, via hacking and intercepting owners’ email addresses.
According to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), fake holiday homes and villas account for a third of holiday fraud losses, amounting to over £1.5million in the UK in 2012 according to a report in The Independent last April.
Sadly, some listing companies, such as HomeAway – sister companies include VRBO and Owners Direct – have found themselves under scrutiny after holidaymakers have fallen victim to false listings created by fraudulent accounts or existing owner accounts being intercepted.
Unfortunately, the small percentage that abuse the trust of others create victims of the holidaymakers, the listing sites and, in the case of intercepted emails, owners who are missing out on potential bookings. And, whilst some listing sites should perhaps apply more rigorous security measures to prevent such problems arising, it’s worth taking measures in the meantime to prevent the same happening to you.
Here are a few things that you can do if not booking through a reputable letting agent and using a holiday home listing website.
Safeguard yourself against holiday home scams
Use the internet and search engines such as Google. Search for the name of the property, but bear in mind that if this property has been copied from another website, the name may well have been changed. Select a descriptive sentence of the listing text and paste into Google to see if it appears elsewhere. Often these scams are short-lived with perpetrators quickly moving on to the next. For this reason, whole chunks of text are often copied and pasted from the legitimate website. Use Google Street View on Google Maps to confirm that the property is where the owner claims it to be, but bear in mind also that new builds normally won’t appear on Google Maps for a number of years after construction.
Book through a letting agency
Consider booking through a reputable letting agency like Perfect Stays. Letting agents manage bookings on an owner’s behalf and they can tell you all about the property and its locality.
Speak on the phone
Always speak to somebody on the phone, ideally by a number on the actual listing itself. Ask plenty of questions, from local restaurant recommendation to distance to the nearest beach – owners will know all about the area and are usually more than happy to suggest things to do.
Pay by Credit Card
Avoid wiring money or sending cheques at all costs if you have any doubts about the validity of the owner. The majority of Credit Card companies protect their customers on payments of £100 or more. Some Debit Cards also provide some form of protection, so it’s worth checking with your bank if you’re covered.
Check for inconsistencies
Some owners may live in a different country with a second home elsewhere, however be wary if asked to wire any money to a bank account registered in a different country to where the owner lives or has the house.
Ask for proof of ownership
If you really are suspicious of the person that you have been talking to and they are claiming to be the owner, don’t be afraid to ask to see a utility bill with the address of the property and the owner’s name on it.
Check age of listing
Check how long a listing has been active for – the longer the better. How long an owner has been a member can be another indicator of credibility. However, long-standing owners with great reputations can fall victim to email phishing scams.
Avoid paying in full in advance of 6-8 weeks
Standard practice for owners and holiday letting agencies is to request a 20-30% deposit at the time of booking, whilst the final balance and any damages deposits shouldn’t be required until 6-8 weeks before. Alarm bells should be ringing if you’re offered a discount to pay the full amount upfront.
These are just some measures that can be taken when booking your next self-catered holiday home. The best thing to do is trust your instinct: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.