Bargain-hunting holidaymakers have their fingers burnt

Holidaymakers with a nose for a deal are being targeted by criminals. Whose responsibility is it to prevent them?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 17 Sep 2010
Once again, when it comes to getting ripped off in the quest for a bargain, us Brits are ahead of the pack. Apparently, the City of London Police has received ‘dozens’ of reports of people spending large amounts to book ‘non-existent’ villas in holiday resorts, then being surprised when it turns out they’ve been taken for mugs. And the criminals have been raking it in: one ‘company’ allegedly made £500,000 from bookings of fictional Spanish villas from ads on holiday rental sites. Now the holiday listings sites are being called upon to introduce security measures to prevent them. Sounds expensive…

To be fair, it’s not just UK holidaymakers who are being taken for a ride. According to one report, a Portugese woman turned up with her children at a holiday apartment in London after paying £1,500. It turns out that the ad she had answered had been uploaded to a listings site after being copied and pasted from an authentic original by criminals. Luckily for her, the property owner was sympathetic, and allowed the family to stay in one of her apartments ‘at a fraction of the cost’. In another case, a group of people paid £1,125 for a house in Cambridgeshire, and even signed a contract before the final payment was processed. A few days later, the holidaymakers got a call from police saying the house didn’t exist.

Now property owners are raising the question of whose responsibility warding off criminals is by calling on listings websites to invest in new security measures. Both the websites where the adverts in the cases above appeared say they had carried out checks before the ads were placed – whereas Gumtree and Craigslist, where many of the fake ads appear (and let’s be frank: if you’re looking for a holiday rental on Gumtree, you’re looking in the wrong place) have advice about avoiding scams, but don’t have any kind of verification system. Some websites have gone even further: Pureholidayhomes.com says it’s the first one to use an ‘independent identity verification system’ – although we’d wager that’s an expensive way to do it.

Of course, there’s one easy check when you’re booking a holiday: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

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