They’re out there – booking fraud and travel scams. But we’ve outlined some of the most likely ones doing the rounds, below, so that you can avoid getting caught. Cast your eye over these and rest assured.
As the saying goes: forewarned is forearmed…
The latest scam to grip South Africa was the very public Plett hustle, where “booking agent”, Rick Havemann, advertised holiday homes and then disappeared, taking hundreds of thousands of Rands worth of deposits with him.
Holiday accommodation is one of the most popular forms of travel scam. It usually takes the form of fake websites, and fake adverts on social media, like Facebook or Instagram, involving a deposit for a holiday home the price of which seems too good to be true (they’re usually substantially lower than other homes in the same area).
If the price of an establishment seems too good to be true, it probably is!!
In similar cases the home is actually there, but it’s been sold and a very surprised new owner is subject to a stream of unexpected house guests. Or it’s a bogus villa or apartment that does not even exist.
In London during 2014 as many as 1 569 cases of holiday booking fraud were reported (there is a dearth of similar statistics for South Africa).
Think it can’t happen to you? Nobody is immune, it seems.
Although, at least if you’ve booked through a bonafide booking website, like SA-Venues.com, you’re covered.
BOOK THROUGH A REPUTABLE BOOKING ENGINE, LIKE SA-VENUES.COM
It’s very tempting to use sites, like SA Venues, to find accommodation, begin initial communication with the venue and then take it offline to side-step the commission the website charges the accommodation for its part in the transaction (you, the user, pay NO booking fees). But in so doing, you’re only making yourself vulnerable to scammers.
SA-Venues.com protects your bookings in the following ways: A deposit guarantee means that if a scam occurs SA-Venues.com assists in finding you alternative accommodation and pays the deposits on these new bookings. Their STAY-Surance covers 100% refund for cancellations* should you find on arrival that your establishment is suddenly ‘closed’.
And importantly, SA-Venues.com encrypts transaction data during the payment process, and does not store credit card details. They also foot the cost of the credit card fees. You benefit from SA-Venues.com’ high guest loyalty and satisfaction, which you can read in the establishment reviews.
READ THE REVIEWS
Read the reviews written by those who have already been there. SA-Venues.com makes this easy for you. We include reviews on each establishment’s web page – simply scroll and you’ll find them down the right column beneath the cost per night box. It is also why it is so important to take the time, after you’ve stayed somewhere, to write your review (we’ll send you a request to add your review) to protect both the venue and those searching for accommodation options.
If you cannot find a review on SA-Venues.com, then do a Google search for the establishment. But be careful of a recent clustering of positive reviews (a lot of very recent, and very similar, reviews). And try to find reviews on at least two different websites (preferably reputable ones).
The more reviews a place has, the more your mind is put at ease. It’s not a guarantee, but it does mean that the venue is less likely to be fraudulent.
USE A SECURE PAYMENT SYSTEM
By using a secure booking system (like SA-Venues.com) you are, in effect, remaining within a ‘walled garden’ that offers protection to transactions (SA-Venues.com uses Strict 3D Secure). Any monetary transactions that happen outside of such a platform make it very difficult to find support, should things go pear-shaped. It’s also always safer to pay by credit card when paying for accommodation.
Booking engines also protect the establishment – not all holiday booking scams target those wanting a holiday. Some target the venue itself. These usually involve something like this: person contacts establishment having been ‘cancelled’ elsewhere for an amount that way exceeds any usual accommodation transaction for your establishment. They ask if you will accept a cheque or ‘deposit’ from the previous owner and that you pay them the difference. You can imagine the outcome to this story.
DON’T GIVE OUT YOUR EMAIL
Another reason not to transact outside of a bona fide communication/booking system is that the booking system protects your email. Clients and owners use the system to email one another and there is less chance of your email falling into the hands of a fraudster – leaving you vulnerable to off-grid attempts to reveal your sensitive financial information, or worse, to invite you to transfer cash or pay on a fake booking site.
DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH
Verify your accommodation contact details. Google maps is often a good place to confirm the address. Google street view will allow you to see the actual house and the photos should match those on the advert for the establishment. Do a search using your establishment owner’s name to see if they have social media accounts that match up. Make sure that the availability calendar is updated preventing the establishment from re-advertising your time slot.
Get a booking confirmation. If you’ve booked through a reputable booking engine like SA-Venues.com, the final leg of the process is a formal booking confirmation.