How to avoid a holiday lettings scam

Jenai Laignel / 02 November 2015

The trees are dropping their leaves, the nights are closing in and there's a distinct chill in the air – just the time of year to warm the cockles of your heart by planning a holiday escape.

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.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.