CYBER CONMEN HIT COSTA TOURISTS
Genuine villa rentals cloned on rogue website
FAKE villa rental company Spanish Rentals Holiday Escapes offers holidaymakers a dream break in Spain but people tempted to book via its rogue website face an expensive sting.
Hundreds of villas appearing on its electronic pages have been stolen from genuine holiday rental companies – and worried property owners have sounded the alarm on the Costa Blanca.
The home page of the crooks’ website boasts: 'Amazing holiday villas to rent in Spain, Canary Islands, Balearic Islands, Costa Blanca, Costa del Sol'.
And Spanish Rentals Holiday Escapes – which also likes to refer to itself in glowing terms as SRHE – claims it has 702 villas under management with 118 rental homes on the Costa Blanca alone and 107 on the Costa del Sol.
It even has a page called 'book with confidence', promising clients are covered for £15,000 and if they do find the villa offered cheaper elsewhere, SRHE will match the price and hand over a £100 voucher.
SRHE gives its address as Calle Titulcia 8, Madrid. Google maps reveal it to be a residential house in a suburban street close to the capital’s Retiro Park.
The faceless conmen behind the scam also attempt to get their hands on victims’ cash quickly – they offer holidaymakers a 10% discount for immediately paying a deposit and free transfers from the airport.
The Marina Alta resort of Jávea alone has 44 fraudulent listings – one owner took to social media to warn of the fraud and asking landlords to check if their property has been cloned by visiting the www.spainrent holidays.com – which leads directly to the SRHE homepage – or just by entering its full name into a search engine.
“They have copied all the information we have on the legal page at Spain-Holiday.com,” said the owners, who have contacted police. “There are photos and even some reviews.
“An English family made a booking with them, and even signed the contract, which is giving the address and details of our house but with bank details of the fraudster.
“In the last minute before transferral of the money, they double-checked, found our number and made a call to us. This was the way we got to know about it.
“However, there might be some people out there who have paid for a holiday somewhere, and at arrival will find out it is a fraud.”
Another owner, who rents out his Já´ vea home in summer via Villa Plus, said: “This is a massive scam, a big fraud that’s going on.
“It is a company with a fantastic looking website. What they have done is cloned lots of villas whose owners advertise on genuine websites.
“I went to see if mine was listed by SRHE and there it was. They had simply taken everything from Villa Plus, given the house a new name and spiced up what was on offer and even included fake feedback.”
He added: “There’s even a friend’s villa advertised. They used to rent it out but it has not been available as a holiday let for two years.”
Debbie De Laney, area manager for Villa Plus on the Costa Blanca, said the company had fought to get fake adverts taken down but websites continued to appear.
She said the fraudsters overegged the pudding by offering to arrange such things as a concierge, a chef or chauffeur. “They promise they can arrange anything, it’s just crazy, who wants a concierge?”
However, she stressed in her experience there was little chance of holidaymakers actually turning up at the door.
Debbie, who has contacted both head office and colleagues in other areas said: “I don’t understand why the police can’t act, there has to be a bank account for people to pay money into and for the crooks to collect it – I thought they had the power to intervene.
“In all the years I have worked in the industry, I have had only one lot (of holidaymakers) actually turn up, in reality, no one ever arrives.”
It is estimated that internationally tourists are losing millions of pounds to fake holiday rental websites.
Nick Cooper, a Villa Plus director, has appeared on televi- sion and radio to highlight the trouble the scam can trigger – and said the company had a web page dedicated to making customers aware of the danger at www.villaplus.com/booksafe.
He said: “There have been well over 100 fake websites falsely advertising villas since August 2016. For villa owners, apart from being annoying, there is not a lot they can do and there is only a small chance that customers who have been scammed would turn up at their property.”
Nick said owners could report the fake websites to the authorities or companies involved. “In our opinion, this is usually a waste of time. Once a website gets closed down, another identical one can appear the next day.
“Villa Plus has been involved in trying to shut down these fake website’s advertising campaigns as swiftly as we can.”