Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Why Enquiry Scammers Could be Targeting You and What You Need to Know to Protect Yourself.

Image: Salvatore Vuono
As a member of the holiday rentals community we are always keen to hear what topics are on home owner's minds and the subject hot on everyone's lips right now is email enquiry scams. 

Originating mainly in Nigeria there are several scams currently doing the rounds at the moment. The most prominent of which are the "The Overpayment Scam" and the "Premium Rate Telephone Number Scam".

The Overpayment Scam

Topping the list as the most common scam to make you part with your money, the enquirer will send you funds to book your rental in the form of a cheque. The first thing to note is that the value of the cheque will be considerably higher than the price of your rental, sometime 3 times as much and that the enquirer will provide you will what appears to be a valid excuse.

" is a wedding gift from a relative and they want to provide us with spending    money as well"

" my agent is sending our refund directly to you, the refund includes expenses for additional items we bought..."

Cheques are often sent from a third person and the enquirer will continue to check if you have received it and banked it. Once you confirm that you have, they will then ask you to return the funds in the form of "a personal cheque". However their cheque will not have cleared you account and is actually fraudulent.

By the time your bank notifies you of this, your personal cheque will have been banked and the scammer will have disappeared with your money.

The Premium Rate Telephone Number Scam

After an initial, seemingly genuine email enquiry, the enquirer will ask you to contact them via telephone so that they can discuss the booking in more detail with you and the number they provide will start 09.

This is a premium rate telephone number, which the scammer will be collecting a high call charge from, leaving you with one very expensive phone bill. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES CALL A 09 TELEPHONE NUMBER.

How to Spot the Warning Signs

Most scam enquires come from free email accounts like Hotmail, Yahoo or Gmail, however many genuine enquires also do. Yet on these occasions you will sense that something is wrong or the email is amiss and your instinct on these matters is fairly often right. Below are some warning signs to help you spot potential scammers.

Look out for a - - at the top of the email. A large portion of spam enquires have this and be wary of enquires which are written in poor English and bad grammar with line breaks in the incorrect place, poor or no punctuation, bad spelling or wrong tense. Lines like "I will want to know if i and my wife" or "we on honeymoon, no drink, no smoke".

Keywords used by scammers include talking about their wife, honeymoon, don't drink, don't smoke, no pets. Pay attention if they mention all of these things together, especially if grammatically incorrect. "my wife and i We are coming for honeymoon. No smoke, No drink, no pets." Look at the date format they use when checking availability, often they will say they are British but use the American format for dates, i.e September 12 - 18 and note if they state "or any other time available" if they have given dates. Why, if they can come any time?
Often scammers will pose as someone who wants to book accommodation for their company but use a personal email address and give limited details on the company and on many occasions they will tell you that a third party such as a boss or relative will be paying for the rental.

Scammers frequently generalise their emails and will not specifically refer to your rental property instead using phrases like "your place" or "your space" or "your villa/apartment/townhouse" .They also have a tendency to apply pressure subtly with the use of phrases such as "don't hesitate to email me your total price for the whole 1 week" or "I will like you to get back to me with the cost and availability"

Finally, anyone wanting to pay you more than your rental fee should automatically raise suspicion.

So How Do I Protect Myself?

Detecting these scams is easier if you look out for common traits such as those mentioned. However be warned, scammers are becoming more sophisticated and some are near impossible to detect until they have already parted you from you money.

Common sense is key to protecting yourself against scammers, if something is to good to be true, then it probably is. Always listen to your head and your gut in these situations and be prepared to take a few extra steps in ensuring the enquiry is genuine.

Never feel pressurised by the enquirer and only accept payment in the methods you choose. If in doubt, ask for a telephone number and call it to make sure it is real. along with many other holiday rental sites regularly monitors email enquires and users for acts of fraud or spam and will block them, however on occasion some will still slip through and reach your inbox, so be prepared and guard yourself against becoming a victim to them.