As online booking of accommodation is now the norm, reported cases of holiday accommodation booking fraud have also spiked. Sophisticated criminals have come up with complex scams to trick consumers into booking holiday rentals online.
Third-party listing platforms usually offer security for bookings and payments and are offered by established, verified brands; nevertheless, scammers sometimes manage to place adverts on these. In other cases, separate bogus copycat websites are created for real privately-owned properties, without the knowledge of the owners. If you decide to book accommodation directly with the private owner outside of a platform – which usually operates checks and has complex verification processes –, follow this advice to avoid disappointment or fraud:
- Avoid paying by bank transfer; use your credit/debit card or a payment tool instead, so that you can at least avail of chargeback (transaction reversal) if you discover that the booking was fraudulent.
- Usually, the holiday rental process requires a certain percentage deposit, with the balance to be paid up just before arrival or upon departure. If full payment – particularly by bank transfer – is requested upfront, proceed with caution.
- When you do your research, beware of properties advertised at a significantly lower price compared to similar properties nearby and where you are pressured to book quickly.
- Avoid booking a private rental without checking into the ownership and without direct prior communication with the property owner/manager. Genuine rental owners will be able to reply with details about the property and share their knowledge of the area.
- Most holiday rental listing sites feature reviews from verified past guests. Check these out, as well as responses from the property owners. Beware of properties with no reviews and check elsewhere for more details about the property.
- Turn to Google to do some research on the geographical location and verify the address. Some properties will also have recent Street View photos.
- If the property has its own website, it might be a good idea to check its details on web identity checkers, such as whois lookup. Also check social media pages, if any.
- To check if the images are genuine, use the web tools available to check if they appear on multiple websites and for multiple geographical addresses. Try a reverse image search on photos of the property (in Chrome browser, right-click and choose ‘search Google for image’).