Cases of holiday fraud have been on the rise for many years, and reports since 2014 have given us only a small insight into the devastation that accommodation scams, airline ticket cons and more are causing travellers and holidaymakers globally.

In 2015 alone 4,910 cases of holiday related fraud were reported to Action Fraud by UK residents, with many more cases remaining unreported or untold – until now.

In the Summer of 2015, Janet and her family realised they had lost thousands to holiday rental fraud, but decided not to report the scam or share their story – leaving their family in the dark and out of pocket despite discovering the property through a reputable online travel marketplace. But Janet’s story began much earlier in the year, when the family – from Cheshire, England – were planning their annual Summer holiday in Port Andratx (or Puerto de Andrach), Majorca. When searching for their usual resort via OwnersDirect (now known as HomeAway), Janet came across an alternative listing that was in the perfect location and that was reasonable in price – offering them an authentic stay in a location that they were familiar with.

The property in question was by no means a ‘luxurious’ rental, nor a low-cost one, but had all the hallmarks of a property that could provide them with a solid holiday base, and with enough room to house their two sons and a girlfriend. Lured in by the legitimacy of the booking – including a range of photos, reviews, and an incentive – it was clear that nothing immediately stood out as out of the ordinary or fraudulent.

Janet said: “When I returned to the listing after researching and agreeing to go ahead with my family, I noticed that there was an incentive to pay a large deposit up-front to receive a discount on the overall price of the property, which we paid prior to then paying the full remaining amount to what was a legitimate bank account in Spain. In hindsight, that’s what should have set off alarm bells.”

In reality, when Janet had gone to pay for their booking, she had been redirected to an alternative website, away from the OwnersDirect listing – unfortunately a very common practice for fraudsters.

“In the early stages of our booking process however – even after paying – the communication was great. But after that initial communication I didn’t hear much at all, but I thought that was because we had booked it so far in advance, so I chose not to query it until it came to a month prior to getting on the plane. In that time we queried everything from the free airport transfer to how to actually enter the building, but heard nothing back – that was the moment we realised we had been scammed.”

Unfortunately for Janet and her family, they would never receive a response to their messages in the month before leaving for their holiday – leaving them with no choice but to have to book both an alternative villa and a hotel; due to poor availability so close to the holiday date itself.

The significant financial and emotional impact of being scammed out of thousands, along with having to spend further on alternative properties – just as Janet and her family did – is all too common for victims of holiday rental fraud, even four years on.

The sophisticated methods of holiday rental fraudsters

Because the family had booked their holiday so far in advance, there was a large gap between the sale and the holiday itself, allowing for the fraudsters to effectively ‘make a getaway’ before any further investigation by Janet and her family took place. In this case, the fraudsters were aware of how exactly to entice many travellers and holidaymakers into making a purchase decision in the early stages; using a range of tempting imagery, reviews, good early communication and an incentive to pay up front – amongst other methods – to ensure a payment was made.

Crucially, what was missing was authorisation that the listing – including the images, contact details and bank account details – were all connected to the actual owner of the property, and confirmed by local authorities and officials.

“I do a lot online, but that’s what makes it obvious that this was a very slick operation. I didn’t feel anything was wrong until that month before – because they were listed on OwnersDirect, their initial communication was great and everything did seem legitimate. It was clear that the people I was speaking to knew exactly how to get people to pay upfront during a short window – allowing them to take the listing down before any further legal action could take place.”

Janet continued: “No one should feel foolish or alone as a result of a holiday rental scam, because we’re not the only ones. Even later that year I went looking for the name of the property in Majorca and there were a lot of messages on forums that proved I hadn’t been the only one. I even ended up finding the real listing and contacting the true owner to warn him that his property was being listed fraudulently.”

A word from I-PRAC

In the year in which this fraud took place – and of the 4,910 reported cases of fraud reported by ABTA and Action Fraud – there was a total of £11.5 million lost; a 425% rise from the £2.2 million that had been lost to holiday fraud in 2014. 44% of those individuals and families that reported these cases in 2015 also reported significant emotional impact as a result, and the same can be said today. In 2018 it was reported that many of the 5,000+ reported cases had also reported significant emotional issues and financial repercussions.

Chris Maughan, Founder and CEO of I-PRAC commented: “We’re so thankful to Janet and her family for sharing their story with us. We believe this a true example of how little is really known about the impact of holiday rental fraud; including how many cases of unreported fraud there are globally and how sophisticated fraudsters are in scamming innocent families out of their hard-earned money.”

But there is a way to stop this – At I-PRAC we are committed to enabling travellers to book with confidence. Through our in-depth checks of holiday property owners and agencies, and our ‘Register Your Booking’ initiative, we can guarantee that those booking with an I-PRAC approved member are 100% safe against fraud. Our checks cover everything from authorisation of the true owner of the property, bank details and we also liaise directly with government officials across 28 countries.

To find out how to register your booking with an I-PRAC approved member, visit our register your booking page, and begin reaping the benefits of booking securely and without the risk of a scam.

For further information on how to become an I-PRAC verified member and legitimate operator, and to join us in the fight against holiday rental fraud and the devastation it causes, visit our dedicated approval page.