It will come as no surprise to some – but as an unwelcome
surprise to others – to learn that the world of gite
bookings, or holiday rental bookings and even b and b and hotel
bookings, is frequented by a shady army of scammers, people (generally
in faraway countries) makeing a bit on the side, or even a good living,
out of scamming accommodation owners into sending them money..... which
they will never see again.
Owners can be scammed by email, or by a scammer using the
contact form on their website, or even by supposed customers sent on by
booking-portals that do not reveal the owner's own website even if he
How to recognise
a booking scam
Often it is fairly easy, specially when the owner has his own website,
and receives an email or contact-form message directly from the
scammer. Here are the tell-tale signs:
- The email is in poor English, yet purports to come
from someone calling himself Dr. John Brown, or Mr. James Graves, or
Mr. Peter Johnson or a similar very classic English-sounding name
- The text is generic, and does not mention the name of
the property or the owner
- It mentions, in the initial enquiry, the number of
people wanting to rent rooms (and even sometimes their names, such as
my son Mark (21) and my two daughters Emma and Sarah
- It claims to be a request for a group of friends, or
colleagues, coming for a conference in your area.
- It asks, in the initial email, how the booking can be
Scammers may show all
these tell-tale signs, or just some
of them; or none
at all – which means that even without them, the owner has to
An actual recent scam doing the rounds in February 2017, had
variants on this text: - including a personalised header:
(name of owner),
I'd like to rent your charming gite for 4 weeks from April 22 to May
20, 2017 for vacation with my wife. Please confirm availability and the
rental price for the period.
This particular scammer has used the same email and same name to try
and scam a whole lot of property owners : others are more subtle,
changing their texts and changing their email addresses frequently, to
keep one step ahead of detection.
Avoiding scams :
what to do if you receive a scam booking
Generally, the simplest answer is: delete the email at once.
However, if you are sure that it is a scam (for
instance, at least two of the tell-tale signs are present), and the
email comes from a scammer using an email address on gmail, aol, yahoo,
outlook, or one of the big throaway email address providers, forward
the email to "firstname.lastname@example.org", or "email@example.com"... in function of
the address of the originating email.. The big providers want to keep
scammers out of their emails, and will deal with abuse complaints,
specially if they get them from multiple sources.
IMPORTANT: Don't report innocent people who have
had their email address hacked. If the email appears to have been sent
from, let's say, "firstname.lastname@example.org", check that the
reply is being sent to the same address. If not, "Caroline Rundell" has
probably had her email address stolen... though she may exist and still
be using it, blissfully unaware, and quite legitimately. It
is very easy to send an email from a forged address, and include
instructions in the "header" to send any reply to a different address.
If you want to report an address, it's not "Caroline's"
address that has to be reported, but the "reply-to" address.
If in any doubt, do nothing; just bin the email.
How do scams work ?
There are a number of different scam techniques, among which one of the
simplest (and probably most successful) is the "Overpaid deposit" scam.
It works like this.
In response to a booking enquiry, an owner asks the potential customer,
whom we'll call Mr.Crook - to send a deposit of, for instance, 100
Mr Crook emails back, saying that he wants to send the deposit
by bank transfer, so please send account details.
The unsuspecting owner sends Mr Crook his or her
It all seems very genuine. Within a few hours, the holiday
rental owner receives a payment into his account, from Mr. Crook; but
instead of being for 100 €, it comes in as a payment of 1000
There are two
possible next steps; either the alarmed owner immediately
emails Mr Crook to say he's sent too much; or Mr Crook soon emails to
say he or his bank has made a slip, and has sent too much, and could
the owner be so kind as to send back the difference.....
Still suspecting nothing, and indeed by now
convinced that Mr.Crook is genuine, since he has sent a payment, the
owner does just that, and sends 900 € back to the
account that Mr Crook designates.
What the owner does not know is that many banks credit
international payments immediately they come through.... but only do so
provisionally, on condition that the sending bank confirms the payment.
This is all stated in the small details of the bank's terms and
conditions, and companies know this; private individuals frequently do
not. With international payments, and notably intercontinental
payments, confirmation can take two weeks or sometimes even more.
So two weeks after having sent Mr.Crook back his
reimbursement, our innocent owner is eventually informed by the bank
that Mr.Crook's original payment was refused by the paying bank in some
faraway country (Nigeria is a frequently quoted) and the original
credit of 1000 € has been un-credited.
As for the reimbursement, the poor property owner has no way
of getting it back. He or she made a perfectly genuine international
payment, and the bank has no authority to ask for it to be repaid by a
bank in some distant land. Besides, by the time a UK or French bank put
through a demand for reimbursement, if it actually did so, Mr. Crook's
account will probably have been emptied, if not closed.
The poor owner's 900€ reimbursement (and it could be
quite a bit more) is lost, and it's not going to come back.
It's a classic scam !
There are variants on this, but no holiday-rental owner should ever
make an international reimbursement before the original incoming
payment has been fully cleared by his bank.