People should be aware of the tell-tale signs of online scams when it comes to booking holiday accommodation this summer, according to Fine Gael TD Emer Higgins.
Deputy Higgins obtained figures showing a rise in incidents of accommodation fraud reported to the Gardai, which rose from 231 in 2019 to 276 last year, with 850 cases from 2019 to the start of May. Over €1.4 million was stolen in rental scams over the four-year period.
Deputy Higgins said: “While there was a slight drop in incidents of accommodation fraud due the pandemic in 2020, there was a 20% rise in the number of incidents in 2021, with €463,934 stolen through fraudulent activity that year. There were 115 cases to May this year.
“There are generally two types of accommodation fraud, rental scams for those seeking long-term accommodation and holiday rental fraud, which targets people booking accommodation for a holiday. The latter can be harder to detect as the property may be in a different country so there’s no option to view it beforehand.
“With holiday rental fraud, the vast majority of victims usually spot an advert on social media and will have contacted the fraudster via social media or WhatsApp. Indeed this was the case in 2021, with 135 incidents of accommodation fraud happening online and 54 through social media.
“Two people told RTÉ how they were scammed out of €200 by a fraudster who put up an ad for a holiday rental on Facebook Marketplace.
“The fraudster used images of a property owned privately and asked them to transfer the money via PayPal. Once the payment was transferred, the fraudster ceased communicating with them and blocked them from social media channels.
“People can report these scams to social media companies, which I believe must take action and do more to moderate content. I want to see more resources being allocated by social media companies for moderating content and combatting fraudulent ads and fraudsters who violate their policies.
“Gardai can also liaise with social media companies to gather evidence when a criminal investigation is underway.
“The Gardai has advised people to use legitimate letting agencies and websites, and where possible get the landlord to meet you at the accommodation and take a full tour.
“They may ask you to move off a legitimate website and use WhatsApp or another social media platform to complete the transaction which is another red flag with these scams as there is no comeback if the deal goes wrong.
“And if booking a holiday rental, use a booking agent or hotel website directly and make sure any third-party websites are secure.
“Consumers should also remember that they are protected by law when they purchase a good or service from a legitimate website and pay through a legitimate method such as a credit card.
“Gardai are continuously monitoring crime trends to identify individuals who are engaged in these crimes. I would encourage anyone who has been the victim of accommodation fraud to contact the Gardai, as it will be investigated by authorities.