This article was written by Sandra O'Connell and was published in The Irish Times Saturday 14th August 2010.
Go Niche: THINK THERE’S nothing worse on holiday than bad weather? Try turning up and finding the villa you just forked out a fortune for doesn’t exist. Or exists but whose owners know nothing about your booking.
It’s a problem private investigator Annie Murphy of Bluemoon Investigations says is on the rise. She was recently engaged to unravel a particularly well-organised scam offering non-existent holiday lets in upmarket Puerto Banus (pictured).
“It was very professional. A number of properties were advertised through classified ads and on letting websites over a period of time. The guy on the end of the phone sounded very plausible. He said he was a quantity surveyor, and directed people to his own business website, which looked the part,” says Murphy.
It was only when people began arriving in Spain and found the properties didn’t exist that the scam became apparent.
By that stage the money had been transferred and the guy on the end of the phone line had stopped answering.
“Turns out his very professional website was made up of material lifted wholesale from two other quantity surveyor websites, including pictures of personnel,” says Murphy.
“The phone was an unregistered pay-as-you-go phone and the people behind the scam couldn’t be tracked down.”
Her advice is to be vigilant. “Avoid booking through classified adverts or from online adverts unless you already know someone who has booked that accommodation before with no problems and only ever make credit or debit card payments through secure websites,” says Murphy.
“If in doubt at all, do not make the booking or hand over any payment and, if a deal seems too good to be true, then it probably is.”