How to watch out for scammers when booking last-minute holiday rentals

If you haven't booked accommodation for keDezemba in January already, then you know the true face of horror when trying to find SOMETHING over the festive period that will give you some semblance of a summer holiday.

But this desperation can attract the scum of the internet, lying in wait to pounce with their 'too-good-to-be-true' deals, sometimes even sounding like a completely normal offer of accommodation.

The folks over at Gumtree are no stranger to scams, and have a few handy tips for spotting the fakes from the actual real offers.

“Some people forget common sense when they’re under pressure on a deadline to find somewhere to stay,” says Gumtree SA's general managing director Claire Cobbledick.

She also comments that renting out property the advertiser doesn't own or renting out to several people at the same time is the most commons scam out there.

ALSO SEE: Summer Safety: How to turn the tide on beach dramas this festive season

Here are more tips on how to spot them:

Sometimes the red flag is in the photos

Scammers can pull photos from professional property sites, and sometimes the photos aren't even of the actual place. Be wary of low quality, cropped and pixelated photos (even scammers get lazy over the holidays) and ask the advertiser to see more photos of the place before making your booking.

You can also use Google Street View to make doubly sure the photos match the address.

Use your connections

If you know someone who lives nearby the property, or knows the area well, ask their advice on the property and if they've heard of the advertiser before. You can also find a Facebook group of the community you're visiting and see if they know about the advertiser. 

Word of mouth via social media can travel faster than the speed of light.

SEE: SANParks warns of social media scams, copyright infringement

References are your best friend

If you're having serious doubts, ask for references of previous guests. This will help not only confirm the advertiser's legitimacy but will also give you an idea if the accommodation is really as amazing as it looks in the photos. You can also make a quick Google search and see if any warnings pop up from forums and review websites. They could also have duplicate advertisements on different websites, which should trigger a red flag as well.

References might even have some great tips for what to do and see in the area.

Too-good-to-be-true-rates

If the price sounds ridiculous, then the advertiser probably is. To be fair, there are some legitimate reasons for offering a cut-price offer last-minute (like last-minute cancellations with no refunds) but if no logical explanation is provided for the price, then you got yourself a B-grade scammer.

Also if they keep hounding you for immediate payment, then it's safer to just back away from the computer.

SEE: Festive Season scamming: R7m Durban travel agency fraud appears to be 'intentional bust-out'

Get them digits

As soon as you start interacting with a potential holiday-saving rental, make sure you get as many direct contact details as you can. These can quickly provide a clue on whether it's legit, especially if they're being evasive on providing contact details.

Some things to look out for are bad spelling, a foreign phone number and an email address that is more a description of the property than someone's actual name (8sleeperhouseontablemountain@gmail.com is probably not legit).

SEE: SA scams that will make you do a double take

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