“But … I booked …”

Private Property South Africa

Picture this: you’ve saved up all year to go on holiday and enjoy some time off at the beach with your loved ones. You’ve booked your holiday rental online, packed your bags and arrive at your intended lodgings – only to be told that no such rental booking exists and that you’ve been scammed.

Such is the scenario which is once again beginning to play out at South Africa’s holiday hotspots, says Private Property’s Support Centre Manager Barrie Knox-Davies.

He explains: “Fraudsters have taken to preying on would-be holiday makers by copying images and editorial relating to popular holiday accommodation and rentals and posting them online at cut-rate prices. Once they’ve lured a person into paying a deposit into their bank account, they disappear into thin air, along with the booking. It’s a scam that’s plays out year round but which peaks around the festive season.”

Prolific low-lifes

According to a recent report, one fraudster has listed numerous hotels and B&Bs in the Durban area on a well-known free website using the same mobile number. When the website was informed of the fraudster’s tactics, its support team undertook to remove the ads but said they were unable to block particular numbers. The result is that new ads simply pop up to replace the ones that are removed.

And it’s not just the holiday rental market which is being targeted. The short- to medium-term rental market in high-demand areas such as Noordwyk in Midrand is being targeted too says Knox-Davies.

Claire Cobbledick, Head of Marketing for Gumtree South Africa, told Consumer Watch recently that the fake rental agent was the website’s number one online scam – that’s both for rented as well as holiday accommodation.

Vetting process

And fraudsters are becoming increasingly sophisticated says Knox-Davies, who explains that some fraudsters go as far as providing fake water and electricity bills in a bid to prove their authenticity.

“Although Private Property hosts rental listings, these don’t comprise the bulk of our business and we have a very strict vetting protocol in place, which ensures that the fraudsters don’t get their foot in the door.

“Once an ad is placed it goes through a moderation process. Alongside other checks, we validate the ownership of the listings against Deeds Office information, following which we either post the ad or we don’t. Given the nature of the vetting procedure, it takes longer for the ad to appear but when it does, there’s very little chance that it’s fraudulent, which is a huge plus point in our favour.”

It must be mentioned that at some holiday destinations listed on Private Property, the holiday rental prices may seem too good to be true. Knox-Davies says this is because Private Property’s system is designed to show a price-per-month profile as opposed to a price-per-day profile. Where the price does seem unbelievably good, he urges customers to check the associated description to confirm the price. He adds that Private Property will look into gearing the site to reflect daily prices in the future.

If it seems too good to be true …

“Although there are pitfalls, it shouldn’t prevent you from booking rentals online,” he says. “Just be sure to go through valid, well-known rental booking sites and agents, never blindly trust what you see or are told and make sure the property actually exists at the address advertised. If you’re looking for a non-holiday rental, it’s especially important to go and physically view the property. You can also see if your contact has any kind of history by quoting the reference number listed to any of our call centre agents at Private Property who will help you ascertain if there are any issues you should be aware of.”

Other tell-tale signs that you are dealing with fraudsters include poor written and verbal English. It’s also not a good sign if you get vague or evasive answers, the price is ridiculously good or the seller tries to pressure you into paying a deposit in a hurry. Lastly, if your gut tells you something doesn’t feel right, back off and book somewhere else.

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