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‘I’m devastated that a villa scam cost me £4000 and family holiday I’d saved up for’

by Staff

SCAM ALERT: Emma found a villa listed n Airbnb’s website – but when she tried to book it, it took her to Whatsapp instead (Image: Katie N Brand Photography/PA Real Life)

A family was forced to cancel their holiday after falling for an Airbnb letting scam. Emma Last, 48, and her husband Zak, 51, had to cancel their trip with their three children after realising they had been scammed out of £4,000.

The family was due to fly out to Majorca for an eight-night family holiday in August last year, but just hours before their flight, Emma discovered that the villa they booked was not officially reserved because they used a fraudulent website. The devastating realisation left the children, who were packed and excited for the trip, feeling upset, writes Eleanor Fleming.

Having diligently saved for a year, Emma, a mental health and wellbeing strategist, explored holiday options on Airbnb in July 2023. Specifically looking for family villas in Ibiza or Majorca to accommodate her parents and three children, Emma found three options and conducted thorough checks.

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Using Google Earth, they verified the existence of the villas and reviewed all provided information. Upon clicking the Airbnb listing, they were instructed to check availability via WhatsApp.

Emma messaged the provided number and received a response from ‘Lyda from Travel Villas’, confirming the property’s availability for their requested dates at a discounted rental cost of 600 Euros (£511) per night. The message said: “Please send us your email so we can send you the PDF Brochure of the villa with all the details regarding the photos, services, location and terms of the booking.”

After some back and forth, Emma was then advised that she was ‘pre-approved to book’ and her reservation ‘will be confirmed instantly once a payment is made’. The message on WhatsApp continued: ‘Free cancellation policy within 24 hours prior to check-in. Full refund back.’

A link led her to what seemed like a Booking.com page, offering a 10% discount, making her believe the villa booking was real. However, the website was fake and not connected to Booking.com.

NO BREAK: Emma with her husband Zak (Image: Katie N Brand Photography/PA Real Life)

Emma’s mother paid £4,120 on July 30, and Emma spent £1,722.98 on Ryanair flights for seven people. She got a confirmation email from ‘Puerto Soller Villa’ and a WhatsApp message saying the payment was sorted. The message mentioned flexible check-in from 10am to 7pm, with a key passcode option after 7pm.

Emma sent follow-up messages about their flights on WhatsApp and asked for more information about the check-in process, but after receiving no responses over the following days from her texts and calls, she started to panic. With a taxi booked for 11am on August 7 to take her family to the airport, Emma set an early alarm and contacted Barclays for advice, as she booked her flights with her Barclaycard and had travel insurance.

She considered taking the chance and flying, planning to book a hotel if they couldn’t access the villa. However, she got a distressing call from her mother, discovering that scammers had copied details and images from Oliver’s Travels website to create a fake ‘Travel Villas’ site, pretending to be letting agents, and it was all a scam.

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Emma said: “I felt stupid, I felt really stressed about trying to get the money back, I felt devastated for my children and my husband. You save up, you plan, and the thing is, I work really hard. I’m a small business owner and in my world the majority of people are amazing people. It just disappoints you that there are people like that in the world.”

Barclays initially advised Emma to file an insurance claim for the unused flights, offering her some reassurance. However, when she followed up, the bank claimed her circumstances weren’t covered by her policy.

Emma complained about the poor advice, prompting Barclays to apologise, admitting she was misinformed and offering £100 for distress. Although Emma recovered the £4,120 for the villa scam, she’s still over £1,700 out of pocket for the flights. Despite feeling initially upset, Emma now shares her story to prevent others from falling victim to scams.

She said: “We did do some due diligence, but are there some learnings out of it? Absolutely. If they ask you to go off the site and into WhatsApp, don’t do it, if they ask you to pay on a different site, don’t do it. I have worked on my own mental health, and I’ve got all these tools in my kit bag because of the work that I do, but what really worries me is other people … the impact it can have on you, it can be devastating.”

An Airbnb spokesperson said: “This listing was removed from the platform as soon as it came to our attention last July, and we are in touch with the guest to offer our support. We encourage and remind users to stay on Airbnb to communicate, book and pay to help ensure they’re protected by our policies, processes and 24/7 support, including AirCover.”

A Barclays spokesperson said: “We have every sympathy with our customer who was the victim of a scam when booking their holiday accommodation. Our customer arranged the flights separately from the booking of the holiday accommodation, choosing to use their corporate credit card to complete the payment for the flights. The financial protection provided with Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act only applies to purchases made using a personal credit card, rather than one related to a business account.

“We were alerted to the accommodation scam on the day the flights were due to take place and we encouraged our customer to speak to their airline regarding their situation.”

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