It’s perhaps the online world’s greatest dichotomy. A greater connectivity and sense of community online has, in many cases, bred an increased vulnerability and exposure to the unscrupulous. Recent years have seen a spate of scams originating in the online sharing community; a risk heightened when a sense of trust is key to a transaction.
Non-existent tour operators, fake taxis companies, fraudulent Airbnb listings and fake villa scams have all hit the headlines lately. And because there’s nothing which ruins your holiday quite like discovering you’ve been scammed, ripped off or worst of all, booked something which doesn’t even exist, we’re going to focus on the last item on that list today. With that in mind, here are 7 IDEAL steps to booking your next holiday accommodation safely and securely.
CHECK HOW LONG THE VILLA HAS BEEN ADVERTISED
Renting out a villa has so many upsides. There’s a privacy and sense of freedom simply not available in resorts, hotels or downtown apartments. What’s more, the traditional size of a villa represents the opportunity for a group of friends to gather en masse, and wine, dine and socialise together in a way which corporate accommodation just can’t match. The pressure is on, then, to choose somewhere ‘right’.
When you look at a villa online, the date that the advertiser joined the site will generally be listed, usually found on the listing or on the landlord’s profile. As a rule, the longer the villa has been on the website, the more likely it is to be legit.
ASSESS REVIEWS OVER MULTIPLE PLATFORMS
Reviews left by other renters should be checked carefully before you book. Good reviews can be faked, of course, so be wary of villas that only have glowing reviews lacking in the finer detail that marks them as personal.
Look for comments from other renters and travellers which are really specific to the area or accommodation, as these are usually genuine. A string of generic reviews which read something like ‘wonderful amenities, great atmosphere, we will surely book again!’ should set the alarm bells ringing. If this is the single review left by a profile with a stock photo and randomly generated username (nick17373929102), then it’s pretty clear you’re dealing with a bot. Steer clear.
CONFIRM THE LOCATION
Time to bring out your inner Sherlock. Using a system like Google Maps can help you confirm the location of any villa you’re viewing online. Once you’ve located the villa, you should use Street View to see that the image on the map matches the pictures on the website. If there’s a difference, you could be looking at a scam listing and should exercise caution. Of course, fantastic deals can be found online, such as from Orlando Villas, but it pays to be cautious and to question everything.
HAVE DIRECT CONTACT WITH THE OWNER
Worryingly, it’s actually fairly easy for scammers to list a property they don’t actually own online, then get bookings, take your money and disappear into the ether. It’s crucial in the booking process to talk to the owner, preferably on the phone (a number will often be listed and a landline will be better than mobile). You should check the landline number against the location of the property in case of discrepancies. If the villa is in Ibiza but the ‘owner’s’ landline is in Timbuktu, then yep, those alarm bells should be damaging your eardrums.
ALWAYS GET PAPERWORK
Just because the transaction is happening online and everything seems so easy and ‘at the click of a button’, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t request (and expect) contracts, receipts and other paperwork. Indeed, you should never send your payment before you get a written contract for the rental of the villa. Pay close attention to the security deposit, ensure that all of the terms are clear and that the amount of the deposit is not disproportionate.
AVOID WIRE TRANSFERS
When it comes to paying the deposit and balance, you should avoid wire money transfers like Western Union. Credit cards are the best thing to use, as full protection is offered. PayPal offers some security on your purchase, too.
There are some rental websites that offer a protection scheme, which promise to reimburse customers if there is a case of fraud. You should however still read the small print before you book to ensure that you are covered.
TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
Perhaps the most pertinent piece of advice is to trust your instincts. If the host is making odd demands, such as immediate wire transfer, or excessive copies of your documents, a photograph of your bank card…..then trust your gut feeling that something ain’t quite right. Likewise, if they’re trying to rush you to make a decision or send money, it probably spells a scam. Finally, should something feel as though it’s ‘too good to be true’, then it probably is.