FAKE VILLA SCAMS

/ 15 February 2019

At this time of year many of us are all looking forward to long lazy days on sun-drenched beaches, but for some what they’ve paid for is not what they get.  Ruth and Eammon heard Debbie Coventry in Berkshire. She told them how last June she’d arranged a last-minute sunshine getaway. She’d found the perfect villa in Greece on the holiday villa website Estate Luxury Home. The web-site featured over 100 amazing villas. Debbie was spoilt for choice. Keen to secure her last minute booking she emailed the manager of the site, Maria, who responded quickly and efficiently, and confirmed Debbie’s dream villa for the dates she wanted and for the amazingly affordable price of £3,200 for 2 weeks.

Debbie paid the full amount up front with a bank transfer.  She also sent a copy of her passport and the signed agreement by e-mail to confirm her booking.  A week later Debbie got back in touch via e-mail with Maria at Estate Luxury Home, but Maria didn’t e-mail back. Debbie rang the office phone number in Spain listed on their web-site. But there was no response other than an automated phone message in Spanish. Concerned, Debbie checked out a popular review site and finding over 150 posts from other disgruntled customers saying their entire web-site was one massive scam.

Devastated, Debbie phoned her bank but there was no money left in the fake company’s account and what’s more there was nothing they could do as she’d authorized the payment. Debbie was also worried that as well as losing her £3200 she could also become a victim of identity fraud as the scammers had a copy of her passport.

Eamonn explained that the villa Debbie had booked was actually owned by a genuine rental company called Villa Plus. They are based in St Albans in Hertfordshire, and are a totally legitimate company and  a member of ABTA – Association of British Travel Agents. The fraudsters had taken all their details and photos from the Villa Plus site. Nick Cooper the co-owner of Villa Plus explained he’d worked in the travel business for 40 years and for over 30 years he’d been renting villas to holiday-makers. In the last 2 years alone, he’d been made aware of 200 fake villa web-sites that have scammed innocent holiday-makers out of millions of pounds.

Nick explained – “The scammers advertise their fake web-site and take hundreds of fake bookings and poor Debbie is just another innocent victim. Villa Plus spend many hours every week trying to get the fake web-sites taken down. No sooner is one taken down, the scammers create a new fake web-site and name, and then start all over again”.

Eamonn also spoke to Sean Tipton from ABTA who warned not to book in haste, to check online the villa actually exists and is owned by the company advertising it, check out review sites, never to pay for a holiday or villa by bank transfer and to check that the company you are dealing with is a member of travel trade body.

To avoid becoming the victim of holiday scams, Action Fraud has this advice:

  • Stay safe online: Check the web address is legitimate and has not been altered by slight changes to a domain name – such as going from .co.uk to .org
  • Do your research: Don’t just rely on one review – do a thorough online search to check the company’s credentials. If a company is defrauding people there is a good chance that consumers will post details of their experiences, and warnings about the company.
  • Look for the logo: Check whether the company is a member of a recognised trade body such as ABTA. If you have any doubts, you can verify membership of ABTA online, at www.abta.com.
  • Pay safe: Wherever possible, pay by credit card and be wary about paying directly into a private individual’s bank account.
  • Check documentation: You should study terms and conditions and be very wary of any companies that don’t provide any at all.
  • Trust your instincts: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Action Fraud website: https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/a-z-of-fraud/holiday-fraud