I became concerned about the possibility of being cheated after one of my colleagues wrote about her horrible experience in a flat she had rented in Portugal from Airbnb. The flat itself was as advertised, but the ghetto-like neighborhood wasn’t safe for foreigners.
Airbnb never responded to her or took any action, although it was evident that the rental description was lacking vital information about the neighborhood and its safety. The owner of the property twisted the truth about its location: the flat was a few kilometers away from the coast, but it was advertised as a fishing village flat.
The nasty thing was that the apartment had about 30 “customer” reviews, but only a couple of them mentioned the false location and unsafe environment. These reviews were buried at the bottom, and she didn’t find them before renting the flat.
Now, it seems that reports of accommodation rental scams in many popular travel destinations in Europe are rapidly increasing. Here are a few tips to avoid scams when you are searching for a house, apartment, caravan or cabin to rent for your next trip.
BBC reports about a scam in Scotland where large stationary caravans were offered for holidays at a very low price. The scammer advertised on Facebook. Once contacted, she wanted the rental money right away, and told the keys are waiting at the caravan park reception. The keys are there all right, but the owner of the caravan doesn’t know anything about the rental. The scammer had rented the real thing, and used real photos and information to make it credible.
How to avoid the caravan park scam? Do not book anything via social media services. Book via a reputable booking service only, or directly from a company that manages rental properties for landlords.
The biggest moneymakers in fake holiday apartment renting business are professional criminals, reports Yle. On the island of Mallorca in Spain, criminals had netted at least 800 000 euros from fake rentals. In Kitzbuhel, Germany, criminals managed to rent at least 50 ski cabins to customers who arrived on the mountain only to find out they didn’t have a room at all.
How to avoid these scams? You have to do your homework before paying. Do you have full contact information for the party who is renting the place? Telephone number, address, email, name. Search the Internet for that name and address. Make a phone call and ask something that is not mentioned in the ad. Do not pay the full rental price in advance (this is a big problem in many online booking services, like Airbnb). Do not pay via MoneyGram or Western Union services, but use only a major credit card or PayPal. Pay the full rental price only after you have seen the house.
Advanced scammers can replicate web pages of popular booking services. What you see in your web browser is exactly the familiar booking service you have used before, but in reality, it is not. It is operated by criminals. You can instantly spot this fraud by checking the addresses of the links on the web pages. Hover your mouse above a link, and you will see the address at the bottom line of your browser.
Online booking services feature customer reviews for rental properties. In many cases, anyone can write these reviews, also the scammer. A reputable booking service can manage fake customer reviews, and remove them, so you don’t have think about it.
Would it have been possible to avoid the Airbnb scam where the flat was located in a ghetto? Very difficult, because the owner simply left some vital information out from the description and improved the location. After the incident, no one of my colleagues has used Airbnb.