Fake accommodation websites are becoming an increasing danger.
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How To Stay Safe
Payment Direct To The Owner
NEVER send money to anyone who asks you to pay them via wire transfer, Western Union, Moneygram or other such payment providers. This is especially a caution if you are booking through a third party website and not booking directly through the accommodation owner’s own website.
Websites such as booking.com, cottages.com, tripadvisor all have their own payment system and you will not have to contact the accommodation owners.
Websites such as homeaway.co.uk offer the opportunity for you to contact and exchange messages with the owner. This is where you could, potentially and unwittingly, put yourself at risk. If the owner asks you NOT to use the website’s own payment system but to pay them directly be very, very cautious. These websites have their own payment systems so that your money is protected.
If you by pass their payment system and pay the owner direct your money is not guaranteed – this is how scammers work, especially if they have hacked into the account of a legitimate owner.
If in doubt, report the problem to the website.
This is becoming an increasing problem with villas/self catering in sunshine websites. Fake sites will usually offer dozens if not hundreds of villas to choose from. The content will be stolen from other sites.
How to spot a fake villa/accommodation website
1. First, try and find out how old the website you are using is. This is easily done by copying the domain name (the bit that says www.fakewebsite.com) and pasting it into a “who is” search website, such as www.who.is. This will tell you when the site was registered and who registered it.
If the site is new, or the details don’t look right, then move on to another site.
2. Look for reviews of the site you are using. If there are none, or they are poor, find another site.
3. Look for full contact details. A legitimate website will have full contact details, including a phone number and an address. If the only contact details are a contact form or an email address, move on and find another website.
If there is a phone number, phone it. Who answers? Do they sound Spanish (if they claim to be in Spain, for example). Remember – it is easy for fraudsters to buy internet phone numbers with a country code that looks legitimate.
4. Do a Google images search to see who the “directors” are. Fake websites seems to like adding photos of their directors to make themselves look legitimate. These photos are almost always stolen.
It’s easy to do a Google image search. Right click (or tap and hold) on a picture – then copy it or save it to your device.
Then go to https://images.google.com/
Click on the camera icon in the search box and upload the image you have just saved. Within seconds Google will tell you if the same image is used elsewhere. Then you can look to see whose photo has really been used.
You can do the same with the villas on the site. Save the photos to your device and do a google image search. Does it seem as if all the content on the sites has simply been stolen from other sites? If so, move on to another site.
If you are an accommodation provider there is a separate set of scammers just waiting to pounce.
I was reminded of this just a few days ago when I received the following email:
I will be coming for holiday in your place with my wife from United state of America and i will like to know if your property will be available for the month of April,i will want you to get back to me to confirm the availability of the dates below:
Arrival Date: 1 April 20177
Departure Date: 8 April 2017
I hope to read back from you with the availability of the dates and the total price for two adult and we are also flexible with date
Greetings Family Tayloror Mathew”
How Do I Know This Is A Scam?
Look at the way this email is written. The writer doesn’t know the name of the property or the type of property they claim to want to book.
Secondly – the common phrase used in most accommodation scams – they ask for the “total price”.
Many that I have seen before claim they are sending a party of priests, or a group of people attending a religious convention. But they always ask for the “total price”.
How The Scam Works
Once you have confirmed that the requested dates are available and confirmed the cost, the scammer will usually ask to pay you by credit card. They will then start telling you stories about why they need to send you more money than you have asked for – to pay car hire, to pay taxis, to pay something else. They will tell you that they cannot pay the other business directly but will send you extra money and ask you to pay the third party.
If you fall for their story you will then send money to an associate of the scammer. Any payment you have received will be withdrawn by your bank once they realise the initial payment was fraudulent.
You will be left out of pocket having forwarded hundreds of pounds to the scammer with no way of recovering the money.
That’s the usual advise – its the sensible approach and it’s what I would advise anyone to do. Of course, that’s on the basis of “do as I say, not as I do”. For the sake of research I replied. I don’t provide holiday accommodation – I never have. I make websites for accommodation providers.
I replied that we had several places available and asked which he wanted (knowing full well that he had no idea who I was or what kind of accommodation he thought I provided). He replied:
Am waiting to hear from you with total price for two adult in a week
with any nice one
So I sent him a made up list of cottages with prices. Bingo, his reply showed what I had already said above. He wants to send me a cheque for more than I asked for, so I can forward money to his “traveling agent”.
Thanks for getting back to me, i am very happy that you will be able
to rent your accommodation to us,I have discussed this with my wife
and we have agreed to use your place, so i will want you to block
other people from renting this following date:
Arrival Date: 1 April 2017
Departure Date: 8 April 2017
Guest: 2 adult
Rental Amount: Albury cottage, £450
Here is our company’s name below :
Company Name : Oil & Gas Association Ltd
Below is our Name and address where you can send any document:
Name : Taylor Mathew
Home Address: xxxxxx Magnolia Street Magnolia Springs,
AL 36555 Alabama
Tell : +1 (289) 724-5234
Regarding the payment arrangement,I am assuring you that their won’t
be any problem because our company’s associate in Europe would be
paying for our holiday expenses and they have inform me that they will
be making the payment via Euro Check.
The Euro Check that you will receive will be in excess, has Our trip
expenses which include our B.T.A (Basic Travelers Allowance)fee will
be included with the rental fee base on trust. As soon as you have
receive the Euro Check you would have it deposited into you account
you would deduct the rental fee and i will tell you how to send our
trip expenses which include our B.T.A (Basic Travelers Allowance)fee
to my traveling agent so that he can do all paperwork’s, After the
Euro Check has been cleared in your account.
I will appreciate if you can get back to me with the following
information that will be need by our company business associate to
make the payment out to you, so that you can receive the Euro Check as
soon as possible:
Full Name on Euro Check:
Telephone Number :
I would be very glad if you can be of a helping hand, I will be
looking forward to read back from you with the information needed
If you fell for this, or a similar scam, you would be sent a cheque that appeared real. There is a passing chance that your bank would accept it, especially if (like I do) you pay your cheques in via the post. I don’t doubt the scammer would urge you to forward the money as quickly as possible – before the cheque had a chance to clear. Because it wouldn’t clear – it would be a fake cheque and you would be left out of pocket with no way of recovering the money you sent.
Oh look, I’ve been sent another one.
Good Day Sir / Madam
I’m Christina Mcquillan from Florida, I’m interested in staying your place for Two week, From 20 May 2017 to 3 of June 2017 , We need accommodation for just two people only, Please get back to me with the price for Two week rent and if its not available for the date , Please get back to me with available date
For the sake of research I’ve sent another list of made up cottages. I’ll let you know what the response is, but I’ll guess it will be similar to the above. Wanting to overpay me and asking me to forward the balance to a third party.
Update – not a very original scammer this one. Apart from the date, the reply was exactly the same as the previous one – word for word. Clearly it is a copy and paste job. The usual stuff about a “Basic Travelers Allowance”, etc, etc.
Clearly I’m the favoured one when it comes to accommodation scammers. I just received this one:
I will be coming for holiday in your place with my wife from United state and i will like to know if your property will be available for the month of April,i will want you to get back to me to confirm the availability of the dates below:
Arrival Date: 1 April 2017
Departure Date: 8 April 2017
I hope to read back from you with the availability of the dates and the total price for two adult and we are also flexible with date.
Family Roberts Hernandez
Apart from a different “Family” name this is the same as the original one at the top of this page. Word for word, including the dates. My online alter ego has jumped into action and replied. I’m betting I get exactly the same reply as for the previous two.