As Airbnb positions itself to launch a new, premium property service – a site exclusively dedicated to high-end homes for the most discerning travellers – it’s becoming clear that tired hotels and bland resorts are becoming a thing of the past. And why shouldn’t they be? Modern holidays aren’t just about sun-seeking; they’re a chance to truly escape into an exotic paradise, and create memories of enjoying the finer things in life. What better backdrop than a breath-taking skyline from the balcony of your (rented) penthouse, or a fabulous infinity pool outside a luxurious villa?
Unfortunately, there is a catch. With the rise of online accommodation brokers comes a wave of increasingly sophisticated holiday rental scam, robbing unwitting holidaymakers of thousands of pounds every year. Between fraudulent listings, unscrupulous hosts and destructive guests, holiday home rental can be a risky business for everyone involved.
Luxury hotspots like Marbella tend to be particularly vulnerable, as the competition for stunning, beach-side vacation pads creates an easy for scammers looking to make a lucrative deal. If you’re planning an indulgent escape to the Coast of the Sun this summer, make sure you don’t get caught out when booking online.
The Holiday Rentals Scam
The first scam to look out for is “phishing”. Usually, the scammer hacks into the account of a legitimate listing and manipulates the advert so that you contact them, instead of the owner. Once you’ve got in contact, they will link you to a convincing imitation site, which captures confidential data when you go to make a reservation.
Another is the “Advance Fees” trick. Most property portals have their own secure payment system, where transactions are insured. Scammers will attempt to get around this by offering you an incentive to transfer money directly to them instead, where the payment can’t be traced. They will then stop any communication with you, leaving you without a booking and a much lighter wallet.
The last, and potentially most devastating, is where you don’t discover the scam until you turn up at the property address… only to find that it doesn’t exist. Maybe the photos you saw belong to another house, or several houses – but all you know for sure is that you’re stood outside a run-down apartment block or kebab shop with your suitcases, no villa in sight.
Six Steps to Avoid a Holiday Rental Scam
- The first step is to choose a well-established property agent. While you can find some excellent deals on Airbnb, do make sure to have a look at local options, who can offer invaluable experience and a friendly face to help you in your search. Panorama has been serving the region for over 40 years, and specialise in luxury holiday rentals in Marbella.
- Pay attention to referrals and reviews. Holiday lettings sites usually have host profiles, allowing you to see how long they’ve been using the site, and how many happy (or unhappy) guests have left feedback. If this profile scrimps on details it could be a sign that they’re not entirely legitimate, so it’s best to look elsewhere.
- Go through the features of the accommodation carefully, and double-check the host’s cancellation policy, so you don’t end up with any nasty surprises that could have been prevented. It’s worth checking other major rental sites to see if the property is listed elsewhere, with different features or pictures that might indicate one (or both) adverts is dishonest.
- Check the web address – is it the one you intended to visit? Avoid phishing by starting any browsing or payment process on the website homepage, which will reassure you that you’ve not been led somewhere different. Make sure the website is secure by looking for a padlock icon in the web address bar and a URL that starts with “https”
- Don’t indulge in a request to pay privately, as this almost always void your right to compensation from the broker company. It should also trigger alarms about the integrity of the host, so take caution before proceeding and if anything seems “off”, move on to a different listing.
- Always communicate via the property website. The broker (be it Airbnb or someone else) will be able to monitor the conversation and respond appropriately to shifty requests. As soon as you start emailing between personal accounts you are likely to lose any insurance from the broker.
What to do if you’ve been scammed?
Check the policies of your broker carefully (ideally before you book), as they will have specific requirements about the steps you need to take. For example, Airbnb insists that you attempt to remedy misunderstandings directly with your intended host, before contacting the Airbnb Customer Service team within 24 hours of the issue.
In any event, be sure to save all communications, take as many pictures of the issue as you can and remember; if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Featured Article by Dakota Murphey