Lingfield resident Natasha Shek is warning Facebook users to watch out for scammers after she was defrauded of her holiday deposit.
In May this year, Natasha began searching on Facebook Marketplace for a cottage that her family could stay in to celebrate her mum’s 60th birthday in July. After finding the ideal letting in Cornwall, she sent a message to the person advertising it requesting more details.
He replied straight away, sending her additional photographs and answering her questions, including why the property had no website: he claimed it was currently under construction. Still slightly sceptical, Natasha asked him for identification and he sent her a utility bill which clearly showed his name and the property address.
“I also spoke to him on the phone for about 20 minutes, and he was friendly and seemed perfectly normal,” says Natasha. “He emailed me the invoice for my booking, which asked for the £220 deposit to be sent via bank transfer. I thought then that it was all above board, because surely he would have needed his real ID to open the account?”
Reassured, Natasha transferred the money. It wasn’t until nearer the supposed start date of the holiday that she began to feel concerned.
“The man had mentioned he could help me arrange a birthday cake for my mum, but when I sent him a WhatsApp message about it a few weeks before we were due to go, it went unread for over a week. I tried contacting him via Facebook Messenger and email, with no response. I rang him, but it went straight to voicemail. That’s when I started to get worried.”
Natasha then called a pub close to the property, and was told that it had been used before for a scam, and the actual owners were not involved in this supposed letting in any way.
“I’m so glad I found out before we travelled,” Natasha says. “Although I’ve lost the deposit money, it would have been worse if we’d driven all the way there and discovered the whole thing was a fraud.”
Natasha reported her experience to the police, and also managed to find a legitimate replacement cottage so her family could get together as planned, but she wants to spread awareness of this type of deception.
“I thought I’d done enough checking: speaking to the man on the phone, seeing the utility bill and getting his bank details, but he was prepared and had answers for everything. And only asking for the deposit was clever: if he’d asked for the whole amount on booking I might have been more suspicious.”
How to avoid a Facebook holiday scam:
- Make sure the property has a website: be wary of those only on social media.
- Look for properties with plenty of reviews and recommendations.
- If you are able to, visit the address before booking to ensure all is as described. If you don’t, you could try contacting a shop or business close to it, to check it is a genuine holiday rental.
- If the ‘owner’ asks for the full amount of the holiday upfront, rather than just an initial deposit, it’s a red flag.
- If possible, pay with methods that offer protection, such as a credit card or Paypal. If you’re asked for an online payment, don’t click on any links you’re sent: search for the payment site yourself to make sure it is legitimate (the URL begins with ‘https’ and shows the padlock symbol as a starting point).