Holiday rental scams: what to watch out for

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

With the December holidays approaching, fraudsters are out in force. Here are some tips to keep in mind when booking your holiday accommodation.

There’s been a plethora of complaints regarding holiday accommodation scams on social media recently and they all basically say the same thing: the accommodation was reasonably priced, the photos looked fantastic and the owner/agent who was renting the property out was lovely.

Unfortunately, the reason conmen and women are able to get away with the things they do is that they know exactly how to play the game. They are charming, they say all the right things and more often than not, are the last people you would expect to take you for a ride.

Holiday accommodation scams have been around for years and countless people have lost out on their annual break because some low-down scoundrel wanted to make a quick buck. Social media has made these scamsters’ lives a little easier because they can now create a fake profile and offer numerous deals to lure in the unsuspecting.

While there’s no sure-fire way to avoid getting caught, there are ways to help ensure that the holiday home you’re booking is legit.

Here’s are some holiday rental scam red flags:

  • It sounds too good to be true.

Peak season bookings are notoriously more expensive. Be wary of something that is much cheaper than other offerings in the area. This however doesn’t mean that those attempting to pull a fast one will only try to rent out really cheap accommodation. We recently heard from a woman who was very nearly taken for R100 000 when booking holiday accommodation in New York.

  • Availability.

Try to avoid making last minute bookings during peak periods when there’s little or no chance of securing bona fide holiday accommodation. Scamsters love desperate, last minute renters because they know the chances of catching them are excellent.

  • Not a qualified agent

If booking through an estate agent ask to see a current Fidelity Fund certificate before handing over a deposit. Check the agency’s website because con artists don’t usually go to the trouble of creating an actual site where they can peddle their non-existent goods. However, be aware that some con artists are more sophisticated and could clone the web page of an existing, reputable company. Check the web address and avoid if the wording is fraught with errors. As far as Facebook pages go, scroll down the posts to see roughly how long the business has been operating. Pages that have been open for a short time and have recently been loaded with numerous properties should be avoided.

  • Be wary of private individuals who advertise holiday accommodation.

This is a tricky one because some landlords do opt to rent out privately, but be aware that there is a far greater chance of being scammed by unscrupulous people using this method. Many private landlords are now using sites such as Airbnb to market their homes which makes it easier to see if the property does actually belong to the person trying to let it out and also allows one to see if the property is in fact available to let at the preferred time.

  • Listen to your gut.

Walk away if something doesn’t feel right. Trust your instincts and continue looking if any red flags are raised.

  • Don’t be pressurised into making a decision.

Be wary of pushy people, and do your homework before you transfer the deposit, even if you are warned you may lose out if you delay.

  • Check if the accommodation exists

If you have any doubts about the transaction, ask friends or family members who live in the area to view the home and to chat to the owner or agent in person. Yes, we know it sounds a little extreme, but a con artist will only be willing to take things so far and meeting up with friends or family of their victim probably isn’t going to be high on their agenda.

  • Discounted accommodation

Be alert to those who offer a discount during peak periods if you show reluctance to book the accommodation. Renting out property in highly sought-after holiday towns should be a breeze at this time of the year and questions need to be asked if the landlord/agent appears to be desperate.

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