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Beware holiday rental market scammers

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18 Jun 2013

With the mid-year break quickly approaching, many people are starting to investigate their holiday options, and a thaw out at the coast during the long, cold winter seems like a great idea.

These deals are mostly offered by agents you’ve never met; whose offices you’ve never visited and whose sole purpose is to lure you into paying a deposit on a property on which they have no mandate.

Yet this market, as with many others, has become a target for con men and women trying their utmost to scam good people out of their hard earned money.

John Roberts, CEO of the Just Property Group, says it never fails to amaze him how gullible some people are when it comes to money matters.

He says in their fast-moving consumer environment, where social media has shortened response times, people are now more susceptible than ever before to scams, one of the latest of which is operated by fly-by-night letting agents.

The South African coastline offers a huge opportunity for these unethical businesses who over-promise and under-deliver on their holiday letting offerings. At the beginning of the year, he says the media revealed how a number of people who had rented accommodation for their year-end holiday either arrived to find that others were occupying the accommodation they had rented, or that the property at which they had arrived, wasn’t what they had been promised when they paid the deposit.

These deals are mostly offered by agents you’ve never met; whose offices you’ve never visited and whose sole purpose is to lure you into paying a deposit on a property on which they have no mandate, he says.

“It will also be the last you hear from them. These agents primarily operate by falsely advertising rental properties on the internet, usually for new developments. Often the scammers pressure clients into paying a deposit, saying that the property is in demand, but that is the last they will see of the money and the property.”

Roberts says they would suggest that you use a reputable letting company or a national brand to avoid being conned. He says if you’re in doubt, the local tourist junction boards will carry information about reputable companies. “Also be sure to sign the lease before paying a deposit. If the letting agent asks you to deposit money into a bank account that is not a recognisable company bank account – don’t.”

Roberts says ask the agency to provide you with proof that your deposit is kept in an interest bearing account.

He says for a dream, rather than a nightmare holiday, make sure that you deal with a trustworthy and respected company with a proven track record.

Tell-tale signs that you are dealing with a scammer

1. A deal that is too good to be true is often a scam.

2. If an advert has only the person’s name and cell number be wary. All reputable companies have websites with landline numbers.

3. The lease agreements and documentation are presented on unbranded stationery and the bank account into which the deposit must be paid does not match the company's name.

4. Being pressurised into paying a deposit by the agent because "there is a waiting list and other tenants want the property," should raise some red flags.

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