The other week I saw an Instagram link to a website offering Instax cameras at incredibly discounted prices. I hastily bought one, chuffed I’d got a great bargain. How happy my daughter would be unwrapping it on Christmas Day. My glee was short-lived. My credit card history showed I’d paid a weird company in Singapore. I started to worry. A bit of googling later I found the genuine Instax website with a warning page about fraudulent ones. I’d been scammed. The camera is never going to be delivered. I felt cross. Cross that people would do this to me and annoyed with myself for falling for it.
Fortunately it wasn’t a lot of money but the experience has brought home to me the potential risk of buying things on the internet. In the future I’ll be more wary before I press the ‘Proceed to Payment’ button. It has also prompted me to look into what you can do to keep safe when booking holiday accommodation online.
Fraud is rare but unfortunately does sometimes happen. It can happen whether you book through an Online Travel Agent (OTA) like Owners Direct or Airbnb, or book directly with the owner. Anyone can set up a listing on one of the OTAs in minutes, with no checks. A little longer and a bit more technical know-how and they can set up a basic website. The perception seems to be that you are safer booking through an OTA but arguably an owner with their own quality website is less likely to be fraudulent. They have taken the time and effort to set up a good website.
Ways To Protect Yourself
Protect yourself against fraud. Take due diligence no matter how you book. There are several things you can do before booking a property to check that it is genuine. Here are some tips:
- Look through the website or listing thoroughly. Does it have plenty of information and decent pictures?
- Check that email addresses match the property name and /or the web address.
- Google the online presence of the property. Make sure all the details, photos and contact details are high quality and are the same everywhere.
- Check social media. Is there a Facebook page for the property? Instagram is getting ever more popular these days. Has the owner verified the property on Google My Business? A scammer is unlikely to have set up much of a social media presence but a genuine owner will often make the effort.
- Contact the owner. If a phone number is provided, give the owner a ring to have a chat about their property. Ask lots of questions. A genuine owner will be happy to answer and will have a good knowledge of their property and the area.
Use common sense. Is the price reasonable for the property and doesn’t sound too cheap perhaps? Are you feeling under pressure to book quickly? If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. Thinking back to my dodgy camera website, a little voice in my head was telling me it sounded an unbelievable offer but I wanted to get that bargain quickly before they all sold out. So, don’t be like me, take your time and do some research. Most importantly, trust your instinct. If you feel uneasy, just walk away.
When it comes to handing over money many owners, ourselves included, can take credit cards, which gives you similar payment protection to that offered by the OTAs. Travel insurance also gives you added protection (check what is covered).
Keep Calm & Book Direct!
Please bear in mind that fraud is rare. The intention of this post isn’t to scare anyone away from looking to book direct. With no middlemen you save yourself a booking fee and owners don’t pay a hefty commission so they can ensure you get the best possible price. You support your independent holiday home owner too. It’s just a reminder to stay savvy to ensure you stay safe.