UK/SPAIN - Multi-million pound holiday rental scams are on the increase, with more than 1,000 scams uncovered in 2012 alone, and those heading to areas around Spain, Italy and Portugal are advised to book their accommodation through reputable rental agencies to ensure they won't fall prey to this type of criminal activity.
Alison Scriven, Director of Sitges Hills Villas, a leading provider of holiday rentals in the Sitges area of Spain, says, "We would strongly advise anyone looking to book holiday accommodation through individual owners to be very vigilant as they are much more susceptible to email hacking and other types of online fraud. Reputable rental agencies are much better positioned to combat 'phishing' and other fraudulent online activity and so your hard-earned holiday will be much safer."
Scriven continues, "At Sitges Hills Villas we utilise several different channels of communication, including social media platforms and fixed business phone lines, and so our customers can easily verify that their reservation and payment are secure."
This holiday season, Sitges Hills Villas received no less than fifteen enquiries from people who had been victims of these crimes and were desperately looking for alternative accommodation to save their holiday. Unfortunately, in most cases the company were unable to help as their property portfolio was fully booked for the season.
Alison Scriven says, "When holidaymakers book directly with the owner they presume their money is safe, but often the first time they realise they have been conned is when they arrive at the property for their holiday only to find it already occupied and the owner having no knowledge of their booking."
The rapidly increasing number of villa rental sites popping up with properties around the Mediterranean and within the southern European countries is said to have made these consumers a bigger common target for sophisticated fraudsters, who can hack insecure websites or email accounts easily.
As well as the obvious financial loss that many holidaymakers must endure as a result of what's happened, there is also the heartbreak that they must face upon realising that they will not be enjoying the holiday the family had been looking forward to for so long. Their flights are pointless without the accommodation to go with them, and many families simply end up cancelling their getaways entirely as a result of the fraud.
The advice from police and holiday fraud experts is to use a reputable rental agency if possible, but if you do decide to book directly through an owner then take every precaution possible to ensure that you are dealing with the right person before making a payment.