Sadly, in recent months, we’ve come across several people who have been scammed by fake villa owners. In most cases, this has been for holiday bookings, but in some it has also been for long term bookings.
There are various ways the scammers operate. They’ve been known to hack and intercept email addresses published on the web, to set up whole new websites and simply download the images from other sites, and even to advertise properties in local magazines and online.
The potential rewards are excellent, because people are used to being asked for substantial deposits, often months ahead of when they want to arrive. The scammers can simply keep repeating the scam over, and over, for any given date and earn a lot of money. Once they’ve done so, or if they are caught out, they simply move on to another property.
It’s worth mentioning here that these scams apply all over the world, and are almost never perpetrated here in Lanzarote, and can be run from anywhere. These people are simply using Lanzarote properties as a way of scamming money.
What to look for
1/ Property names will be “odd.”
The scammers don’t want you to be able to search for the property being available on another site, so they tend to use “made up” names. For example, we saw one site where all the names were Greek sounding, for Lanzarote villas!
2/ They often talk about “concierges.”
For some reason, many of the sites post pictures of the concierge who will look after your whole booking. Real websites don’t use “concierges,” that’s a hotel thing.
3/ Check out the terms and conditions.
They’re often bizarre. For example “We take a €15,000 bond from every property owner before they can advertise on our site. Realistically, nobody can afford to do that.
4/ They have too much availability
If a villa in Lanzarote is showing as available for almost the whole year, it’s very likely to be a scam.
So what can you do to avoid being caught?
Speak to them on the phone
In most cases when you first make contact with an owner, it will be via a webform or email. As you get close to making a decision, ask them for a phone number so you can ask a few more questions.
This doesn’t guarantee they are not a scammer, but most will just “disappear” when asked for a phone number. Once you do get through, have plenty of questions to ask about the property – perhaps things you can check yourself. Your instinct will generally be able to tell you if they really do know the property and its location inside out, as any genuine owner will.
Do some online research
Most people use social media now, so once you have an owner’s name, do some research online to see if you can connect with them there.
You can download an image from a website and upload it to Tin Eye. Tin Eye will do a “reverse image search” and show you other websites where that image is being used. If it’s called “Villa Gonzalez” on every other site and “Villa Hercules” on one, you can bet that latter is a scam website.
Use safe Payment methods
We’d recommend making any payments by credit card if you can – that gives you a high degree of protection. Sadly, that’s not always possible, as many owners don’t choose to go to the expense of setting up a merchant account.
The next best option is to use Paypal and pay into a Paypal Verified account. If the account isn’t verified, or they start talking about sending cash via Western Union, avoid it and move on to another property. Never let someone talk you into using the “Friends and family” option to pay via Paypal, because you lose all your protection.
Bank transfers are potentially an issue as scammers can set them up reasonably easily and simply clear the cash out, so that it cannot be recalled.
If you are concerned, let the owner know that you are nervous because so many people have been scammed. A genuine owner will probably be able to find a way to reassure you – maybe by putting you in contact with someone on the island who knows them, or even providing a copy of a rates or electricity bill for the property.
What to do if you have been caught out
Get onto the police in your home country straight away, and give them as much documentation as you can. In almost every case, these scams are not run from Lanzarote, so there’s probably little point in contacting the police here, unless you have paid money into a Spanish bank account.
At the same time, contact whoever you used to make any payment – Paypal, the credit card company or your bank, and let them know the situation and ask if there is anything they can do to recover the money.
We hope this helps to stop a few of these.