There’s been a surge in fake villa rental websites setting up since January, with fraudsters targeting properties listed on the popular Villa Plus and Airbnb websites, according to this week’s Sunday Times.
The scam sites use stolen images of real villas listed on legitimate rental websites and list them under bogus names to entice holidaymakers to part with their cash by bank transfer – often thousands of pounds.
Villa Plus told the newspaper that at least 10,000 of its images had been stolen by scammers and pointed to paradisevillaholidays.com as one alleged fraudulent website. The site, which was still accessible when Spectator Money looked at it, features a property named Villa Jimenez on Menorca with availability in August for £2,740 a week, which holidaymakers can book by paying a £1,620 deposit through ‘wire transfer’. The website is pretty sleek and sophisticated and includes three reviews of the accommodation, each giving a five out of five rating. But it’s all an elaborate con as Villa Plus confirmed the property is actually Villa Camomila Tomas, which it lets and is fully booked until the autumn.
When run through web safety site scamadviser.com, paradisevillaholidays.com is given the following warning: ‘This Very New Site Has an Unknown Reputation. Site is United States based, But The Real Location Is Being Hidden.’ Its records show the website is just 43 days old.
As well as bogus websites, other methods of holiday scams include scam listings on genuine websites whereby fraudsters pose as accommodation owners and persuade victims to communicate and ultimately pay them directly instead of via the website. Airbnb has had experience of this, in which the fraudsters posing as ‘hosts’ also offer incentives to use a non-Airbnb payment service that it refers to as ‘advance fee fraud’. The company stresses to its users it will never ask them to pay the cost of a reservation off-site or through email.
It also warns users about phishing scams, through which someone will send an email or link that is made to look like it’s from Airbnb or another trusted site. The company explains: ‘These messages are designed to trick you into providing confidential information such as passwords or other email addresses and may contain malware, which is malicious software that gains access to your computer to gather your personal information, including passwords.’
With almost 6,000 incidents of online holiday fraud reported to The City of London police’s Action Fraud in 2016 – a near 20 per cent increase on the previous year – and even more scams expected this year, here’s Action Fraud’s advice for booking your holiday online and staying safe from scammers.
- A thorough online search will result in reviews that can reveal more about the holiday or company.
- Check the website address that appears in the top window is correct. Fraudsters can clone legitimate websites but will change the last part of the web address, such as from co.uk to .org.
- Make sure the company is a member of a recognised trade association such as ABTA. You can verify membership on www.abta.com. ABTA is the UK’s biggest travel trade association with around 1,200 Members that adhere to its Code of Conduct.
- When entering your personal or payment details online, make sure the site you are booking on is secure by having a padlock in the address bar and address beginning ‘shttp’ or ‘https’.
- Where possible, book with a credit card [to take advantage of Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act of 1974 which protects purchases of between £100 and £30,000 if anything goes wrong – for more information, see here.] Do note, however, that there may be a surcharge for this.
- Check terms and conditions to confirm exactly what you are buying and don’t be afraid to ask questions. A legitimate company will be able to answer your queries straight away or get back to you with the answers you need.
Laura Whitcombe is knowledge and product editor at ThisisMoney.co.uk.