Following a large increase in fraudulent advertisements, holidaymakers have been warned to exercise extreme caution when renting property online.
Research carried out by a government-backed initiative aimed at increasing awareness of internet scams, Get Safe Online, revealed that one in three online users failed to check whether the company they booked with was a member of a travel recognised association.
The London City Police has received dozens of reports of advertisements for non-existent villas and apartments since the National Fraud intelligence Bureau (NFIB) was introduced in June.
They include numerous transactions, each worth up to £12,000, for apartments on the tropical island of St Tropez, and approximately 70 bookings for villas in the popular Cyprus.
Det Supt Bob Wishart, from the City of London Police’s Economic Crime Department, said: ‘As a result of the work of the NFIB we are seeing for the first time substantial numbers of people reporting villa fraud.’
‘We’d advise anyone looking to book a holiday online to use reputable websites, and look for agents who are ABTA and Atol affiliated.’
Advertisements for properties which don’t exist or for genuine ones not owned by the advertiser, can be posted on various advertising sites, and victims of such scams are often unable to claim compensation.
Natalie Martell, 29, from Chichester, paid £1,125 earlier this year for a house in Great Shelford, Cambridgeshire, where she and 10 others were planning to stay at the property for a wedding, after responding to a listing on the website Gumtree.
‘I was given a contract and everything looked very professional,’ she said. ‘We exchanged several emails and he even sent one to thank me when the final payment was processed. But a few days before the wedding we got a call from the police saying that the house didn’t exist.’
Ms Martell has not been refunded and police believe the same man may have defrauded hundreds more.
Last year, a Malaga-based lettings company allegedly took payments totalling as much as £500,000 for non-existent Spanish villas.
Julie Madison, 37, from Balham, London, owns 9 properties in the capital, which she and her husband advertise through their website, holidayrentalslondon.com. However fraudulent advertisements for their flats have appeared on numerous other sites, including Craiglist and Gumtree.
Earlier this month, Mrs Madison allowed a family to rent one of her properties at a fraction of the price after a Portuguese woman and her children arrived at one of her London properties, having paid £1,500 to a third party – before discovering that there was no record of her booking and that she had been the victim of a scam.
So do be aware of who you’re booking with. Always check that the company are reputable and are ABTA and Atol affiliated, otherwise it could be you who’s left up creek without a paddle!