In light of recent fraudulent villa scams hitting headlines, specialist villa rental company Villa Retreats share their expert tips on how to avoid fraudulent bookings.
Villa rental fraud is expected to reach record levels this summer, with a 39% increase in villa fraud across key holiday destinations such as Spain.
Simon Rowland, Managing Director at Villa Retreats warns holidaymakers to stay vigilant when booking online: “Unfortunately there are criminals out there looking to scam holidaymakers. The best course of action is to stay vigilant: always ask for personal recommendations, speak to the owners on the phone, ask for further information, check on Google Maps, and take other sensible precautions.
Ultimately, the best way to stay safe is to book with a reputable company, one that is ATOL and ABTA protected, and one that is going to ensure your holiday is the best it can be, which is what we offer at Villa Retreats.”
Police and officials are powerless to close down fraudulent sites, which means that the best defence is knowing what to look for and knowing the signs of a fraudulent company.
Use ATOL and ABTA protected companies
One of the best ways to stay safe is to ensure that your holiday is either ATOL or ABTA protected. Both of these offer travel protection, including being covered if the company goes into administration, or if the holiday has been mis-sold.
ATOL-protected holidays are designed for package holidays that include flights, while ABTA protection only covers holidays that involve rail, cruise, or self-drive. When staying in a luxury villa where you’re likely to be flying to your destination but self-driving once you’re there, it’s a good idea to check out both forms of protection. In addition, ABTA also offers legal protection, which means the company is “making sure that you get the holiday you paid for”.
This is one of many reasons, you can be safest booking through a villa agency who represent a number of villas – rather than booking from independent villa owners, as these companies will typically be ABTA and ATOL protected.
Ensure site is https encrypted
Ensure you are using a secure booking site, by checking it is https encrypted – which you can see by looking at the URL. If a site is HTTPS encrypted, this means that any information you input in the site is shared securely, and it is more difficult for a third party to get hold of any of your details – including your bank account details.
If you’re concerned, ring the owner / agency
Fraudulent companies can easily take photos and information about a villa they don’t own, list them on villa rental sites, take a booking, and then disappear with the
money. If you have any doubts at all, make sure to give the villa owners a call. Any reputable listing will have a number listed – a landline is more secure than a mobile – allowing you to ask the owners any number of questions about the property and the area, and assess how knowledgeable they seem to be. Again, booking through an agency can provide the most reliable and knowledgeable customer service, to ensure you that your booking is secure.
Read up on reviews
Before booking anything, make sure to check out the reviews online. All legitimate properties will have reviews, whether that’s on the rental site, TripAdvisor, or social media – and these won’t all be five-star, perfect reviews either. Lack of reviews, all negative reviews and undetailed 5* star reviews can all raise suspicion. A genuine, good quality property is likely to have a large number of detailed reviews highlighting the pros and cons of the property. If you’re booking through a villa rental company, rather than an independent property, you can also take assurance by reading up on the company as a whole on their social media channels, website and press coverage. Of course, you can also take the review process offline by asking friends and family for recommendations too.
How long has it been advertised?
If you are booking via a site which lists numerous properties from different suppliers, the date which the advertiser joined the villa rental website will typically be shown. Choose a company which has been advertising on the website for a long time, as this is more likely to be genuine, as fraudulent companies will take down the ads as soon as they’ve had someone “book” to avoid getting caught.
Use Google Maps
Google Maps can be very useful in trying to assess how legitimate a property is. Not only can it be used to confirm the location of the villa matches up with the address provided by the company, but the Street View tool can be used to check the villa is the same one as is shown in the online images.
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is
Luxury villas are expensive, and although there is always the possibility of finding cheap deals for a holiday, savings such as 40% during peak season don’t exist. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is: fraudulent third parties will advertise a villa at a low price to increase their chances of people booking with them.
Use a secure online payment method
Avoid using wired money transfer sites, as these are often untraceable. Also, avoid transferring money direct from your bank account to another bank account – as this doesn’t provide any confirmation that the money is in exchange for a product. Instead, PayPal offers secure payment methods, while credit cards are also one of the safest methods of payment, and provide greater security than debit cards.
Triple check the agreement / contract
When booking an expensive holiday, ensure to check over the full agreement before signing. Make sure that if something does go wrong with your booking there is a guarantee in the agreement which covers you for this. Reputable companies should also have their full T&Cs, booking conditions and FAQs listed on their website to ensure you are clear on all conditions of your booking and what you are covered for.
Be wary of extortionate security deposits
Luxury villas are expensive to maintain, upkeep, and repair, so it makes sense that the owners will also ask for a security deposit in case anything does get damaged or broken.
However, this should be only circa £1000 and if its more than this you need to check carefully. If it the security deposit is too high be sure to question this.
The best way to stay safe when booking a villa holiday is to book via a reputable villa rental agency, where you can take assurance in being ABTA and ATOL protected, pay using a secure online method and read up on reviews, social media posts and news articles about the company, to ensure your booking is safe and secure.
Villa Retreats is a luxury villa rental company, offering outstanding customer service combined with a personal knowledge of every single one of the villas they have on offer. Fully ATOL and ABTA protected, and first founded in 1991, the company has villas all over the world, including Mallorca (where they offer the Casa Amor villa, as seen in ITV2’s Love Island), Andalucía, Thailand, Morocco, Antigua, and Sardinia and St. Tropez – both of which are brand-new destinations on offer for 2019.