Avoid the holiday rental scam trap

Most of us have started planning our December breaks already, and the online world has made it so much easier to compare prices and hunt for bargain holidays. However, there have been reports of unlucky vacationers who have been duped by fraudsters. There are definite safety tips that one has to follow before putting down a deposit on a holiday home rental.

“We are becoming more accustomed to home-sharing and holiday rentals and as with any trend, scammers will take advantage of growing trust,” says Claire Cobbledick, Head of Marketing for Gumtree SA. “The modus operandi differs, but usually there are instances where a scammer will put up an ad renting out a home that he or she doesn’t actually own. Once the deposit is paid, the unwitting guest arrives at the address to find the rightful owner has no clue about what has transpired. Sometimes scammers will even list ads using the identity of legitimate guesthouses. They may even rent the same property out to several people at once.”

Cobbledick says there a few things that savvy holiday-goers should do before putting down a deposit.

  1. Don’t be fooled by photography

“Often times a scammer will pull a few images from a legitimate ad or property site and use them as advertising bait. Before committing to a booking, ask the advertiser to send you additional photos of the property and if possible, use Google Street View to confirm that the property is at the address advertised.  You should be able to spot if something is amiss.”

  1. Be wary of cheap options

“Whatever you’re purchasing, bear in mind that if prices seem too good to be true – they usually are. Beachfront properties can triple their prices over the December period and a cut-price bargain should raise alarm bells. If you are suspicious, try driving a hard bargain – usually a scammer will cave very quickly and agree to taking a very low sum from you if they suspect you are going to back out.”

  1. If possible, confirm ownership

It is possible to request information about current ownership from the municipality online. “There is a fee of about R150, but you’ll be able to confirm whether or not the person renting out the property is really the owner. (Or at least, you’ll be able to contact the owner to confirm that the renter has the right to do rent it out on their behalf). Considering that you are at the risk of losing not only a deposit, but your well-deserved holiday, it’s well worth it.”

  1. Suspicious behaviour

“Watch out for suspicious behaviours during your communication with the renter. If he or she is evasive, or hounding you constantly to make a decision or a payment, that should send up a red flag. Bad spelling, foreign telephone numbers or a refusal to share information are all warning signs.”

  1. Ask for references

Ask the renter for references of previous guests. “It’s well worth speaking to a few guests who have made use of the house before. Not only can you confirm the legitimacy of the renter, but you can also find out great travel tips!”

That being said, Cobbledick believes there is no reason why you can’t find your dream holiday online. “24% of travellers have used holiday rentals very successfully, and the number is rising. Of course, there will always be opportunists but for the most part, holiday rentals are a great way of cutting costs and seeing the country. Be cautious, and enjoy!”