Now is the time when holidaymakers start scouring the internet for properties to rent during the festive season. Last minute planning often fueled by desperation and online scammers exploit this need.
As the internet is usually the go-to platform for holiday rentals, anonymous communication is often a prerequisite, which can make any of us feel uneasy. It is important to understand that you need to be alert and rely on your instincts when parting with personal information and money. Some horror stories have emerged in recent times - most often related to people paying deposits blindly.
Here are a few tips:
Logic goes a long way. When something is too good to be true, it usually is. Be skeptical of advertisements where the rental quoted is a lot lower than the average for the area in which you are interested. Do a quick market analysis of similar homes to gauge the regional standard.
When communication is vague and your direct responses are going unanswered and are being replied with rhetoric, be weary. An extension of this scam is the "homeowner" that has a million excuses why they can't have someone meet them face to face, especially because they know you're usually still out of town. Their excuses range from always running late, or on business trips or in meetings. The next step is often a request to pay a deposit, albeit at times a smaller one, in good faith to "secure" the property. Do not pay until you're absolutely sure.
A picture speaks a thousand words. If the photos you're being sent vary dramatically in size and quality warning bells should go off. Many potential scammers download stock photos off the internet and use these as bait to attract potential holidaymakers. Request images from different angles and request new photos, with modern technology this is usually rather easy to achieve.
Digital history. Do a quick search online on the rental property's previous adverts. You can either search the contact numbers or address of the property to find out if this home is rented out on an annual basis. Obviously not a sole reflection on the validity of the home but just another factor to consider.
The majority of holiday rentals advertised contain accurate information from a trustworthy source and there is a good chance you'll have a very pleasant experience. This article is in no way aimed at dissuading you from contacting homeowners direct but for both the homeowner and the holidaymaker it is always the best option to make use of a highly reputable estate agency. This way both parties are secure and the transaction is managed professionally.
Harcourts Africa Chief Executive Officer