Firstly to make it clear this does not involve a property in Portugal, BUT it could easily occur anywhere.
A very interesting holiday letting scam was reported in the UK media recently which illustrates the extent that fraudsters will go to in such cases, as well as serving as an example of why it is so important to take all precautions when renting holiday homes on-line.
The family by the name of “Peggs” had used “Owners Direct” for years with no problem, so when they spotted a place in a pretty little town called Fiac, in France they emailed the property owner via the website.
A man called Hamish responded and, after corresponding by email, agreed to rent out the property in the first week of August. Hamish, emailing from a Hotmail account, asked if the money could be sent to his on-line Barclays bank account. The Peggs family thought it a little odd to ask for all the money at once but because they did not want to lose it, they paid £1650 into Hamish’s bank account and thought that was that.’
But in fact, the Peggs’ money had not been deposited into the property owner’s account at all. Yes, the property owner was called Hamish. But retired solicitor Hamish Porter had no idea the family were keen to rent his holiday home, let alone that he had allegedly been ‘paid’ for the privilege.
Internet hackers had intercepted the Peggs’ messages. It is believed they did this by sending owners like Hamish a fake enquiry from a potential renter – which looks just like a genuine Owners Direct enquiry. When the owner clicks on the link, it takes him not to the genuine Owners Direct page, but to a fraudulent duplicate webpage created by the hacker.
When the owner enters his details onto this fake page, he unwittingly gives the fraudster access to his email account. From then on, the scammer can pretend to be the owner, intercepting emails from would-be renters, replying, answering questions, sending out fake contracts and asking for payment directly into his own bank account – and deleting all evidence as they go.
At the end of this case after much debate Owners Direct refunded the Peggs family £700, but they ended up losing almost £1000.
It is believed that this is not an isolated case and Safe Communities Algarve has previously raised concerns over this subject and has provided advice to reduce the risk. This can be found at the following link: Those wishing to rent properties where money is transferred on line direct to the owner should take particular care and in accordance with the advice try and speak to the owner beforehand. Note: gmail and hotmail email address are easy to create and because little information is required it is sometimes impossible to establish who it belongs to. In Portugal it is illegal to let a property without having the required licence.
Alternatively a more reliable option is to go through a reputable well established property rental company, who take care of all the handling of money and the administration and where all the properties advertised are licensed. Details of reliable companies are on the Safe Communities Algarve Safe Service providers webpage as mentioned in the previous article.