Rip Off Britain – Holidays
The latest episode of this BBC consumer advice programme has some timely advice to help you avoid the pitfalls of falling victim to scammers when booking a holiday villa online.
There are two scenarios to look out for… either the villa doesn’t exist (because holiday villa scammers have stolen photos and details of another property), or you are not making a reservation with the real owner (because it’s incredibly easy for scammers to create their own advert by copying and pasting a genuine one, substituting their contact details). These problems can arise whether you are booking through a well-known listing site or a regional one, regardless of any ‘book with confidence guarantees’ they may offer.
Advice Featured in the Programme:
1) Check the website registration… how long has it been in existence?
2) Make sure you have a landline phone number… and not just email.
3) Be suspicious if there is too much availability in peak season.
4) If it’s a bargain, it’s probably too good to be true.
To Which We Would Add:
5) Can you pay by card? Holiday villa scammers prefer bank transfers.
6) Search for the property on other sites. Check whether the owner information is consistent. Search for the property name. R-click on images > Search Google for image. Also look for particular phrases used in the description.
7) Is the owner active on social media? This is a great indicator that they are genuine, as holiday villa scammers are highly unlikely to go this far. In particular look for regular posts, good local knowledge, and guest feedback.
Why Book Directly?
It’s a very good sign if the owner has their own website, as it shows they’re prepared to invest time and effort in creating one. It’s even better if the website has plenty of regularly-updated local information. And an A* goes to owners who’ve also embraced social media.
You may not be aware, but there have been major changes in the villa rental market since the advent of airbnb, and takeovers of UK listing sites such as Owners Direct and Holiday Lettings by US giants HomeAway and Expedia/TripAdvisor. Online Travel Agents require in-house communication to allow them to take an increasingly hefty commission under the guise of payment protection. They are also keen on instant booking which doesn’t give owners a chance to check that their property is a good fit for potential guests. You can read more of the frustrations about Owners Direct on the TrustPilot review site.
In an attempt to retake control, owners are rebelling in droves, setting up their own websites, listing on smaller sites, and taking to social media. By avoiding the large listing sites and booking directly, owners can offer better rates, as they’re not paying for a listing, or losing income via commission and for payment processing.
Finding an Owner’s Website
Even if you start your search on a listing site, resist the temptation to press the ‘instant book’ button when you find a property you like. It’s worth spending a little time searching to see if you can book directly. Start with the villa name and location, try image and text searches (as described above) and look under the owner’s name. And don’t be afraid to use the contact details to ask questions about the property and area.
See our FAQs page for more advice about how to be confident that you are booking directly with the genuine property owner.
Programme: Rip Off Britain – Holidays (series 6, episode 5) – currently on BBC iPlayer