Family scammed out of £2,300 villa rental after emails intercepted

The City Palma de Majorca from a bird's eye view

A hairdresser from Oxfordshire has become the latest victim of a holidayscam, arriving in Spain to discover that her villa hadn't been paid for.

Jayne Morris, 50, of Kidlington, had booked a four-bedroom villa in Majorca for herself and six members of her family through HomeAway.co.uk.

SEE ALSO: How to spot a holiday booking scam

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But when the group arrived, they were met by the villa owner who said that their £2,708 payment hadn't been received.

"I thought there had to be a mistake. I got onto HomeAway and they were absolutely useless," Jayne told the Sun.

"They didn't care. I spoke to my bank but they also couldn't help."

The family stayed in the villa for two days, but was then forced to move on to another one, at a cost of £3,900.

"It was the worst holiday I've ever been on. It spoilt the whole trip," says Jayne.

The family had fallen victim to an increasingly common scam, in which fraudsters intercept emails between villa owners and holidaymakers.

In this case, the scammers offered a 15% discount in return for paying up-front via overseas bank transfer website Transferwise - meaning that the family wasn't entitled to a refund.

They played their part very convincingly over a period of months, even replying to queries about towels and bedding, and allowing Jane to add her father to the guest list.

Such email interception scams have been becoming more common.

"Email payment fraud occurs when a fraudster hacks into the email communications between a client and a company," says Tess Henderson of Clutton Cox Solicitors.

"The scammer places malware into a computer which will lie dormant until it recognises specific keywords relating to a request for funds or deposit payment."

Unlike other types of holiday booking fraud, the email address used will be correct, making the scam hard to detect. The key sign, though, is the request for payment outside the standard HomeAway.co.uk payment system.

"Never pay directly into an private individual's bank account," warns ABTA. "Paying by direct bank transfer is like paying by cash – the money will not be traceable and is not refundable. Wherever possible, pay by credit card or a debit card."

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Top ten holiday scams

You load your luggage into the compartment on the bus, then you get onto the bus, and a thief climbs into the compartment – with or without the knowledge of the driver. During the journey they ransack the luggage for valuables, and you leave the bus none-the-wiser. This is apparently common on unofficial overnight buses in Thailand, and has been reported on coaches in Spain too.

You put your laptop through the scanner while you wait for your turn to walk through the metal detector. The person at the head of the queue walks through without incident, but the second sets off the alarms and spends ages laboriously taking coins and keys out of their pockets. By the time you get through the scanner, the first person has scarpered with your laptop. This has been reported across North America.

There are a few versions of this scam. The cashier may count out your money in the local language and skip numbers in the hope you don’t spot it. They may give you the wrong currency – with a far lower value, or they may give you currency with one zero too few. A common approach is to reverse the exchange rate. So, for example, if you were exchanging £100 pounds into euros the conversion rate of around 80p per euro means you should get about 120 euros. However, by reversing it, they will seem to be making the calculation (and may show you on a calculator) and give you just 80 euros.This scam common across the world (particularly at borders), and has been regularly reported crossing borders in Africa, as well as everywhere from Hungary to Bali.

You drop off your hire car and rush for your flight. The rep checks the car and finds dents and scratches that were there when you got the car (or invents them). They then charge the excess to your credit card, which you only discover on your return. Your only protection is to ensure any damage is marked on the paperwork before you take the car, and ensure that the rep signs off the car as undamaged on return. This is a problem across Europe.

You’re approached by a person in uniform who demands to see your passport, or your wallet. They claim that something is awry in your paperwork, or that you have counterfeit money, and demand you pay an on-the-spot fine, or ‘confiscate’ the cash. These fake officials sometimes simply take whatever you have handed over and run off. To protect yourself, insist on accompanying them to the police station (on foot) before handing anything over. This scam is common in Central and Southern America, Africa, and Eastern Europe.

Rental scams account for one in three of all tourist scams reported to British police. One favourite scammer ploy is to advertise properties online that they either don’t own, or that don’t exist. They ask for money to be transferred up front, and the victim only discovers the problem when they arrive at the fictitious location. Using a reputable website, and only choosing apartments that have been on the site for years and have good ratings will protect you to some extent, but you are still taking a chance. This scam is sadly proliferating worldwide, and the City of London Police say that criminals advertising bogus Spanish properties are particularly prevalent.

This involves the taxi driver switching the note you gave them for a lower denomination. Sometimes this is combined with the trick of leaving the meter off and charging you an exorbitant sum, or taking you on a fraudulently long trip. To protect yourself, only get licensed taxis, insist on the meter being on, look online to find out what is considered a reasonable sum for the journey, and pay in the light. If the driver tries a switch, stand your ground, and suggest he calls the police. This is common around the world, from Athens to Beijing and New York.

The motorbike you hire for the day breaks down, and you are taken to a garage recommended by someone from the rental firm – where you are charged a fortune for minor repairs. Alternatively you bring the bike back and the rental place claims you have damaged it. Either way, if you have handed your passport over as a condition of rental, then you are in a very poor position to negotiate. This is a common scam in Thailand and across Asia.

When you arrive and ask to be taken to your hotel, the taxi driver takes you somewhere that has either a very similar name or one exactly the same. You are asked to pay up-front and will pressurised into paying for a number of tours and excursions. When you wise up to the fact that the hotel is nothing like the quality of the one you booked, they already have your cash. This is reported regularly in India and Vietnam.

You're e approached by a friendly local (often a good-looking one). They ask you for a coffee or a drink, so they can practice their English. They will leave before the bill arrives, and you will discover you have been taken somewhere with ludicrously overpriced drinks. This has been reported around the world.

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