How it works:
- Situation: Just in late 2018, James McAvoy, who acts as Professor Xavier in the X-men movies avoided losing $13k in this scam and brought it to fore. There have been many other stories and similar cases as it is so easy and lucrative to execute (e.g. May 2019, stories of tourists losing thousands to fake villa booking sites (e.g. Dream Villas Spain).
- Red flags: cheap prices, copy-pasted description, dodgy sounding reviews, difference in photos and Google Street View pictures, payment off platform (bank transfer, Western Union, MoneyGram – these are irreversible), overseas owner, details not forthcoming.
Places to beware:
What to do:
- Platform: use one with buyer protection rights: e.g. Booking.com (Frommer’s tests found it to have the best selection and rates), or check out this page for the best hotels in Spain.
- Due diligence: search online reviews and if apartment has listings across other platforms, check if they are consistent. Grill the owner by asking specific details or made-up details to test if he can call your bluff. Test him by requesting a visit by a local friend.
- Payment: do not pay in full upfront and off the platform.