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Rosa Häusschen Kulisse aus Bastholz vor Strandhintegrund
A holiday home on the beach - or just a facade for an internet advertisement and nothing behind it? Image: Igor Tichonow / Shutterstock

Fraud with fake holiday homes

The scam is not new, in the past years we warned about scam attempts with fake fincas and holiday flats in Spain. Online scammers have now expanded their "portfolio". On fake websites as well as on real booking platforms, fake ads of Northern European holiday homes by the sea are now increasingly being placed in addition to Mediterranean destinations. The appealing photos of the holiday domiciles are real, but they were of course stolen from legitimate websites without the owners' consent in order to place the fraud ads. Many fall into this trap with non-existent properties.

The providers act according to the principle of camouflage and deception, the advertisement and the initial contact are inviting and appear professional. Sometimes even total fakes of travel insurance policies are sent out. No wonder that holidaymakers easily stumble across such perfidiously designed pitfalls, because only the beautiful photos are genuine, but the offer on an established booking platform may not be. The first pandemic year 2020 was already a record year and this year, too, we are expecting an increase in trickery.

The Association of German Holiday Home Agencies and the ECC network are receiving more and more complaints from victims. After making an advance payment for the reservation, customers are surprised that the supposed accommodation providers do not contact them again. The offer for the summer stay was incredibly cheap, so often the majority or even the full rental price is willingly paid in advance.

 

Quote from an injured party:
"I feel the same way - €400 gone. After researching, I found the actual landlord of the holiday home. He has already filed a complaint. His photos were used. Everything looked serious. The booking request was made via the website, everything else via email. Even received a security policy..."

Particularly dramatic are cases where holidaymakers really arrive at the holiday destination in good faith to meet the landlord to hand over the keys. It has happened that after booking and receiving deceptively genuine-looking booking documents, tourists only realise the fraud when they arrive and are blindsided when no one shows up at the agreed meeting point. The booked finca in Mallorca does not exist. Due to the promised discount, they did not pay much attention to suspicious details, the fake bargain was a trap from the beginning.

Ein Urlauberpaar mit Gepäck kommt am Ferienhaus an
Image: Pikselstock / Shutterstock

That's how it should be, arriving at the booked holiday home in good spirits. But does the holiday flat or holiday home really exist? When obtaining online offers and booking, you should proceed with caution!

When booking a holiday home, how can I tell if an offer is credible or if it could be a scam?

Keep the following tips in mind. It definitely pays to do some research before booking. This will prevent you from falling into the trap of fraudsters who have absconded after your online payment and cannot be caught!

Pictogram about "Good Idea"

Good idea

Formal:

  • Check the booking website carefully! Is there an imprint with name, full postal address and telephone number? Is it an established booking platform or a home-made site? If these details are missing or only an email address is given, you should not book here!
  • Check the location of the holiday home via Google Maps or Google Street View! Does the holiday home exist at all, can it be found on the online map or the satellite image at the address given?
  • Talk directly to the landlord and call directly. If there is no answer at the telephone number given, we advise you not to make a booking!
  • Take your time and check the experiences with the holiday home on the internet. Check whether there are already negative reports about the provider or the website - on customer rating portals or on warning pages of the industry itself. Positive reports on reputable booking platforms themselves are a good sign; fresh advertisements without any evaluation should be treated with caution.
  • If you book on a reputable platform such as Airbnb, Willhaben or the Ebay classifieds, always stay on this platform and do not let yourself be persuaded to conclude the deal outside the platform! Fraudsters usually try to switch the rest of the business transaction to direct email or social media contact and only use the reputable platforms to lure victims. An offer to bypass the booking platform for a generous discount and book informally is suspect! Also, platforms like Airbnb or Ferienhausmieten.de have safeguards in place for customers. If you book a fake on Airbnb, they will reverse or provide a replacement. Ferienhausmieten.de offers compensation of up to 500 euros if you book something on the platform that turns out to be a fake.

Financial:

  • In general, pay attention to the price. If it is unrealistically low in comparison, the holiday home on offer should be viewed with scepticism. Look at offers in the vicinity of the accommodation to get a feeling for the real price situation on site!
  • Do not pay the total price of the booking in advance, even if you are offered a discount for immediate payment. With reputable offers, deposits are usually in the range of 15-30%.
  • Avoid bank transfers and payment with cash transfer providers such as Western Union, Money Gram and the like. Instead, pay by credit card or Paypal; in case of fraud, payments may be reversed.

Help from third parties:

  • Germany: Association of German holiday home agencies lists current fraud reports
  • Balearic Islands: Holiday homes on the Balearic Islands require designated licence numbers, which must be listed with the advertisement.
  • If you are unsure about an offer, contact us, the European Consumer Centre to check the offer.
  • If you are a victim of fraud, report it to the police.

For research purposes, the editorial staff of the German SWR broadcast various fake advertisements on established platforms for their reportage programme of the series "Marktcheck" (broadcast on 18.5.2021) and quickly recorded order requests with a value of more than 10000 Euros. In the video, a caught holiday apartment scammer reveals his methods. (German language video)

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