A couple have spoken of how they became victims of a holiday scam during a trip to Northern Ireland.
Simone and Alice Cardillo arrived at their accommodation in Belfast to find it was empty and for sale.
They had booked and paid for the bogus property using the booking site, Airbnb. It later refunded the money and removed the fake post.
It said these types of scams are extremely rare on its site, but when they do happen, it acts quickly.
“From the outside you could tell there was something weird,” said Simone who comes from Italy.
“We rang the door and nobody answered. It didn’t look like an Airbnb or like anyone was living there,” said his French partner Alice.
“We called the host, it was a woman and she told us that it wasn’t here and that she wasn’t living in Belfast.
“We were pretty stranded. We had our big backpacks and we didn’t know what to do. We spent the whole afternoon and evening trying to find a new place.”
Northern Ireland ‘People need to be careful’
Those behind these scams are thought to be able to create new listings again, meaning more people get caught out.
Police Service of Northern Ireland chief superintendent Simon Walls said the whole holiday market is a place where people need to be careful and be sure that what they are booking is genuine.
“We know of people who’ve booked what they’ve thought are really good value weekends in good hotels and they’ve turned up to find there’s been no booking,” he said.
“We’ve heard of people who’ve booked expensive apartments in Spain and it’s either been a building site or there’s nothing there.”
Police suspect most of the scammers are operating thousands of miles away.
“If you’re booking a holiday that seems too cheap or if you’re booking an apartment or hotel and you’re not sure it exists, there are ways you can check it out,” he said.
“You can find out addresses, you can look at photographs and check online reviews. And all that gives you some sort of hint on whether the premises actually exists.”
Northern Ireland Scams abroad
These types of scams are also affecting people from Northern Ireland who are booking accommodation abroad.
In July, Scamwise NI, reported that a woman from County Armagh fell victim to a holiday scam after booking a holiday to Spain.
She paid £1,350 for accommodation in an apartment for a week. Closer to the time of her holiday she tried contacting them to arrange for the collection of keys but the website had disappeared and no one responded to her.
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Last month, Lord Alan Sugar warned his twitter followers of Airbnb scams after an American family of six turned up at one of his properties in London.
He claimed they had paid over $600 believing they were staying in one of his properties for three days after scammers took a photo from an estate agents web site.
Airbnb said these types of scams are extremely rare on their site, but when they do happen they act quickly.
“Fake or misrepresented listings have no place in our community and our systems constantly evaluate hundreds of risk signals to identify and stop bad actors. Our team works tirelessly on tools to stay ahead of fraudsters, strengthen our defences and educate hosts and guests about protecting their personal details and staying safe online.”
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