Whether it's a cosy festive staycation that appeals or a sunny villa abroad to look forward to in the New Year, the promise of a relaxing trip with family and friends is sure to perk you up as the days turn colder.
Unfortunately, thanks to the abundance of holiday lettings scammers out there, some travellers may well find their dream holiday turns into a nightmare.
Related: Avoid travel website scams
Holiday booking fraud
According to a recent report by the City of London Police's National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), 1,569 cases of holiday booking fraud were reported last year.
The most common complaint by far is that of the fraudulent booking: when groups arrive at their accommodation only to find that no record of their booking exists – and other residents are already settled in place.
Unscrupulous scammers also pretend to be property owners on holiday rental sites, often choosing random property images from other websites to entice those looking for a great deal: a deal which doesn't exist. Once travellers have parted with their cash, they are left high, dry and having to fork out additional funds to book last-minute holiday accommodation.
Another popular scam, often accomplished through similar holiday booking websites, involves the hijacking of a genuine listing with intercepted emails – meaning that you are communicating with the scammer whilst the real owners have no idea what is going on.
How to avoid a holiday scam
Although booking directly with an owner runs the highest risk of fraud, booking through some holiday rental companies can leave you equally unprotected. Avoid becoming the victim of holiday property scams by following these top tips:
1. Do your research
Check reviews of your chosen property to be sure it exists. Use a variety of sources such as TripAdvisor, as those found on the property's website could well be faked.
2. Check the pictures match the reality
Type in the property address into Google Maps to ascertain it exists. You can even use street view in some locations to check the images are real.
3. Pay by credit card
Never send your bank details in an email which could be hacked, and remember that bank transfers and companies like Western Union can often be untraceable. A credit card (and some debit cards) will offer fraud protection.
4. Read the small print
Some holiday rental sites have protection schemes which will reimburse customers in case of fraud; however, many don't. Be aware before you book.