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Scam listing on turns holiday dream into a nightmare

Pricewatch: Reader was trying to book a villa in Ibiza when he was deceived by a legitimate-looking advert

Last month a reader called Tom was trying to book a family holiday to Ibiza and went in search of a private villa. He found a property he liked the look of on and sent a booking inquiry. “The advert looked legitimate albeit it was new to the website,” he says. “The property had a licence number and score out of 10 which the website said was verified from external reviews. After 24 hours the inquiry expired.”

Tom’s wife then tried to make a booking and the same thing happened.

“Within the ad was an email address to contact the host directly, which I did. Several emails were exchanged and the host explained that they were having trouble with the calendar. They looked for more details of our party which came as no surprise as the property had a no hens/no stag stipulation on the ad.”

Tom says he then received an invitation to a booking page “which bore all the hallmarks of the actual website. There was a link to an invoice which contained a booking reference and pin number. Having only used once before it looked genuine. I completed a SEPA international bank transfer on bank holiday Monday, March 18th, to an account in Milan, Italy.”


Later that evening he received an email looking for a receipt for the transfer to complete the booking and it was at this point that he started to have concerns that things were not right.

“My teenage daughter looked on Google Earth for the address and it became obvious that the photos were not genuine. There was an island in the horizon which does not exist in the area. The following morning he logged into the website with the reference number he had been given and the PIN number and “to my horror there was no reservation with those details. I knew immediately I was in trouble. I contacted my bank and they put me on to the fraud department.

“They issued a request to recall the SEPA payment and said it wasn’t guaranteed and could take up to 15 days. They have subsequently told me that they will not get notification from the bank in Italy and I will only know if I have been successfully refunded when the funds hit my account,” he writes.

When he tried to contact he found it “virtually impossible” as he did not have a genuine booking number. “I emailed my complaint to a link on the website and I have heard nothing back from them. However, the so-called property in question now has a red letter warning that it is no longer available for reservations so I suspect they have acted on my complaint. I have also reported the incident to the Garda.”

He asks if there is a governing body such as the European Central Bank that he could report the issue to? “Is there any protection in a case of fraud? I have read some information online about seeking a refund for defective goods where the recipient of the funds must authorise the refund, but I cannot find any information for fraudulent transactions. Secondly, I would like to know if has any liability? I have since found two other properties with the same host email that are advertised and available for rent. In fact, one of the properties came up as recommended for my group when I searched again for the same dates. Again, I have let the Garda know about these additional properties,” he writes.

When he contacted the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission he was told it was aware of similar complaints. “I thought was a safe place to book holidays and that they verified the properties advertised. I am fully aware of the “buyer beware” nature of these websites but I am shocked at how prevalent these fake ads appear to be. I would hate to see someone else fall for the same ploy.”

He says he is “not sure what else to do and feel a little helpless and sick to the stomach by it all”.

We got in touch with and received the following statement:

“We are constantly optimising the robust security measures we have in place to protect our customers and partners, and take the process of verifying accommodation listings extremely seriously. In addition to the series of checks we have in place to verify properties before they are ever allowed to open on our platform, we have a dedicated team that utilises custom tooling to monitor, detect and block suspicious activity around the clock, all in line with the highest technical standards. In the very rare instance that there might be some cause for doubt or concern with a specific property, we investigate and act immediately, removing them from our site if necessary, as we have done in these instances.

“Should customers have any questions or concerns about a reservation, including in the very rare instance that a property asks them to do something outside of policy, such as booking direct, exchanging money off our platform or requesting payment in a way that doesn’t match what is listed on their booking confirmation, we strongly recommend that they contact our customer service team immediately, who are available 24/7 to support further. We will always do everything we can to investigate thoroughly and support customers in their efforts to recoup any lost funds. In this specific case, we will be picking up with the affected customer directly to apologise and offer our support.”