Travel advice: holiday villa fraudPosted: March 4, 2014
As the police and Abta issue a warning over holiday fraud, Nick Trend advises on how you can protect yourself
By Nick Trend
10:02AM GMT 04 Mar 2014
When you book directly with the owner, there’s a greater risk of fraud. Nearly 30 per cent of holiday fraud victims in 2013 were fooled by the fraudulent advertisement of holiday villas and apartments, according to a report compiled by the City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), with many arriving at their destination to discover they had nowhere to stay.
Fortunately, there are simple ways in which to protect yourself.
The safest way to book accommodation is through a tour operator as part of a package holiday, as the operator has to take responsibility for the booking and guarantee that you won’t lose money. By contrast, many villa rental websites are simply advertising services, and you are booking directly with the owners, not via an agent or operator. You may pay a little less, but there is a greater risk of fraud, and disputes may be more difficult to resolve. These tips will help make your booking more secure.
1. Check how long the villa has been advertised – usually the joining date of the advertiser is given on the website. The longer it has been on the books, the more likely it is to be genuine and legitimate.
2. Check reviews by other renters, either on the site you are booking through, or on TripAdvisor (they may be on both). Good reviews can be faked – beware of those that are nothing but glowing accounts; bad ones tell their own story. Clearly, it is unlikely that a good villa/helpful owners will get many, if any, bad reviews.
3. Use maps.google.com to confirm the location of the villa, and, once you have located it, you may be able to use “street view” to see that the property matches up with the pictures posted online.
4. It is all too easy for fraudsters to list villas they don’t own on villa rental sites, take a booking and disappear with the money. Speak to the owners on the phone – their number should be provided (and note that a landline gives you more security than a mobile). Ask for details about the property, the area etc, and gauge how knowledgeable and trustworthy they seem to be. Ask them for their postal address, too – you would be unwise to sign a contract with anyone whose address you don’t know.
5. Check those details on the internet to see if you can get any more information about the owners, or trace any complaints about them.
6. Use your judgment. If there is something about the website, the property description or the owners that you aren’t happy about, or if the price seems too good to be true, don’t book. There are lots of other villas out there.
7. Be a stickler for paperwork. Do not send any money without receiving, and checking that you are happy with, the written contract. Be very wary of security deposits; ensure that the terms for returning or calling on the deposit are clear, and that the amount is not disproportionate – ten per cent of the rental might be reasonable, more than 25 per cent is clearly too much. Some sites offer the option of taking out damage-waiver insurance, which might cost about £25, rather than paying a deposit.
8. When paying the deposit and balance, always avoid wired money transfersby companies like Western Union, which may be untraceable. Credit card payments are safest. PayPal may provide some protection if yor account is linked to a credit card such as Visa, the card issuer is liable for the fraud – as long as you don’t “load” your PayPal account with money debited to the card before you pay for the villa. Some rental sites such as homeaway.co.uk and villarenters.com have protection schemes which reimburse customers in the case of fraud – read the small print before you book however.
9. Check the property very carefully on arrival, ideally in the company of the owner or managers. Alert them to, and take photographs of, any damage.
10. Be sure to get any security deposit back on leaving the villa. If any deductions are made, ask for proof (i.e. receipts) of the cost deducted.
Other types of holiday fraud
The second most common booking fraud, according to the NFIB report, involved airline tickets that were fake or never turned up, with flights to West Africa a particular target.
Package holidays followed, accounting for 17 per cent of holiday fraud in 2013. It is thought that packages for the Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games in Scotland, and travel to the World Cup in Brazil, may prove a target in 2014, so it will pay to research the travel companies you are thinking of booking with.
This article was first published in October 2011 but was updated in full on March 4, 2014.
Sourced from Telegraph Travel