We've all heard the expression, "When it's too good to be true, it probably is." Unfortunately many of us have fallen prey to dubious characters who offer us a deal that just seems to good to resist.
We used to advertise our properties on Craigslist when it first launched its Paris listing site. It worked quite well and we were pleased with the results but unfortunately we were not alone. Everyone starting using Craigslist and that was not limited to owners or property managers but also to those individuals who saw it as a risk-less way (for them), to make fast cash. They took photos from other listings and and large company sites like Homeaway to create their false listings to draw in their victims.
What made these listings stand out more than others were the incredible deals they offered. Prices that were unbeatable. Unbeatable but very far from reality. They only asked for small amounts and often requested transfers via moneygram, western union or wire transfer (the latter less frequently). The ads just looked dubious yet there were more and more of them popping up so they had to have been working.
I recall once a friend who was looking to move into Paris from the suburbs and who was looking for a good deal. Her budget was low so those were the ads she paid the most attention to - I mean Paris is expensive. So she wrote someone who was offering a 2 bedroom apartment in the 7th for 700 euros/month. Before she went any further into the description, I had to stop her to say, "That is just not possible". She really tried to convince me that it was true and that the guy was genuine. I was dumbfounded. She was not who I imagined as one of the countless victims these scams try to target. No offense to those who have falling into these traps - we are all capable of falling for a good line now and then. Again I repeat, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But how do you know? My best response to that is trust your instincts.
What inspired me to write this piece was a recent email I received from another property owner who ironically I had rented two apartments from, one in Madrid and one in London, without ever knowing that they were both hers. She emailed to tell me that she received an inquiry for her Madrid flat and the inquirer claimed that she had advertised it for 50 euros/night. She discovered that a site called Best Holiday Homes had copied photos from her homeaway listing and had dropped the prices dramatically to draw people in. This person was asking people to wire money to a Finnish bank account. The owner in question even called the number on the site and asked about her London flat and the guy was only more than happy to assist - these apartments always seem to be available. The inquiry was answered by a person named Francis (email@example.com), who apparently is based in the UK and the bank account that the asked her to wire money to is in the name of Pasi Olavi Pitkonen at the Danske Bank.
She went on to tell me that 3 of the Feels Like Home in Paris properties were also listed on this person's site. This was very unnerving. We, she and I contacted Homeaway right away and I contacted another owner whose property I recognized on these people's site. I found that Francis and Pasi were also advertising "their" apartments and their site on Craigslist, so of course I contacted Craigslist - I did not get a reply but I think they removed the listings. Vistaprint hosts this person's site. They actually built an entire website. I have never seen anyone go quite this far. It is so elaborately done that I can see how someone could be taken in but the prices were my first clue that something was NOT right.
Homeaway was the only company that replied positively to our complaints letting us know that they were sending this to their legal department. I thought about putting watermarks straight across all our photos but they may work when listing on my own site but I'm sure a site like homeaway would not want my logo running across their website.
I thought if we presented the facts to Vistaprint the site host they would perhaps do something but this was the response I received:
"Dear Valued Customer,
We do apologize for the frustration. Based on the description of your query we recommend that you contact the property owner for Best Holiday Homes directly.
We do apologize for any inconvenience you may have experience.
Thank you for choosing Vistaprint.
Vistaprint Customer Service"
Not exactly the response that I was expecting. As of today the site still exists and our properties are still listed on there - THIS IS NOT OUR SITE and THESE ARE NOT OUR LISTINGS
If you have doubts about a price, a listing or anything else concerning a rental property you are looking at, do your research. Guest reviews are important, company reviews as well. Pick up the phone and call us if you have questions.
We provide very detailed instructions and information on how we operate. You can read our policies page and see what you can expect from a rental with us. And though we would love to be able to rent you a two bedroom apartment at 70 euros/night we just can't, so such a price associated with our properties would not be possible. We try to avoid wire transfers entirely but some of our guests prefer it. It is not our preferred means of payment.
Here is a link that I found useful offering tips on avoid scams: Protect Yourself from potential rental fraud
The best way to protect ourselves is to work together, so if you have been scammed or are aware of such scams share your experiences so that other people are not victimized. I welcome you to share your thoughts on this post and if you see our listings somewhere that you think may not have been from us, please let us know. We really appreciate your assistance.
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