The simple steps to avoid a nightmare villa booking scam

young family exiting vacation home
Opting for a package holiday is one of the most secure ways to book a villa - Getty/E+

Internet travel scams have become more and more common in recent years. In particular, a report in 2022 by Lloyds Bank flagged up a 33 per cent rise in the number targeting holidaymakers looking for villas and other accommodation.

And while it is actually becoming harder for fraudsters to infiltrate sites like and Airbnb, adverts for fake holidays, villas and static caravans on websites, social media or sent directly to people as “phishing” scams are on the up. And it remains highly profitable for fraudsters to list properties they don’t own, take a booking and disappear with the money.

So how do we best avoid these accommodation scams? Here are my solutions.

1. Book a package

The most secure way to book a villa, cottage or apartment overseas is as part of a package holiday (including flights) through a UK-based tour operator. It has a legal responsibility for the booking, the description and safety of the property and your money is fully protected.

2. Use an agent

For UK holidays you are unlikely to be able to book a package, but using a holiday cottage company or online agent will give you more security than responding directly to a private owner’s ad.

3. Check their history

If you do decide to book via an agency website, check how long the property has been on the site: the joining date of the advertiser/owner is usually flagged automatically. The longer they have been on the site, the more likely it is to be genuine. And apply common sense – if the price looks too good to be true, that is probably a red flag.

4. Search for reviews

Google the name of the property to see if anything untoward crops up and check reviews and ratings by other renters. These can be faked of course, so be sceptical of those that give nothing but glowing accounts.

Young european family enjoying the sunset and having fun at beach house
Reading online reviews, speaking with owners or looking up a property on Google Maps are a few ways to check the legitimacy of a listing - Getty Images/Westend61

5. Photography checks

If you have doubts, downloading one of the photographs of the property advertised and using it to search on Google Images may reveal whether or not it is genuine. Sometimes fraudsters grab photographs from the web to make fake ads. Google Maps will also confirm the location of the house or building and the zoom, or street view function, may allow you to see that it corresponds with the pictures posted online.

6. Speak to the owner

If booking privately, ask to speak to the owners on the phone. Requesting more details is always reassuring and a gauge of how knowledgeable and trustworthy they seem to be. If they refuse, ask yourself why.

7. Background check the owner

Google the owners’ names – it may throw up reasons to be reassured or cautious.

8. Use a credit card

Be extremely wary of paying by bank or wire transfer services. This is sometimes the only way to pay if you book privately but means you stand very little chance of getting your money back if it is a scam. The most secure method is to use a credit card, though PayPal does have its own fraud protection scheme. If paying via an agency, it is vital to use the official payment and communication system. Airbnb’s rules, for example, forbid hosts and guests from communicating or paying outside of its platform (though some subsidiary payments may be allowed on arrival). Any attempt by an advertiser to circumvent this is another red flag.

9. Check the small print

Check security or damage deposit arrangements. The terms for paying and returning deposits should be clear and the amount proportionate – 10 per cent of the rental charge might be reasonable, more than 25 per cent is clearly too much. If any deductions are made when you leave, ask for proof (such as receipts) of the cost deducted.

10. Record any damage

Check the property carefully on arrival, ideally in the presence of the owner or manager. Flag, and take photographs of, any pre-existing damage.

This article was first published in June 2023, and has been revised and updated.