September is a peak time for South Africans making their plans for the end-of-year holidays. Many will book online through sites like Gumtree which offer a vast range of locations and an ability to compare prices.
Estelle Nagel, Vertical Marketing and Brand Manager at Gumtree South Africa, urges South Africans to follow some very basic steps to ensure that they do not become victims of holiday fraud.
“The online space is getting more secure each year and the vast majority of users report a satisfactory experience and enjoy their rental holidays, but it really pays to be careful before parting with any money.”
Nagel says the most common scam is for people to rent out a property they don’t even own or to rent to several people at the same time.
She suggests the following precautionary measures:
Check things out
Don’t be taken in by photos. Sometimes a scammer will pull a few images from a legitimate property site and use them as advertising bait. Before committing to a booking, ask the advertiser to send you additional photos of the property and, if possible, use Google Street View to confirm that the property is at the address advertised.
Request information about current ownership from the municipality online. There is a fee of about R150 but that’s a good investment in peace of mind. If you know someone in the area, ask them to call round to check on the property and the renter.
Ask the renter for references of previous guests. Not only can you confirm the legitimacy of the renter and the quality of the accommodation, but you can also get some tips about the place and the neighbourhood.
Cheap is not cheerful
The December holiday is peak season. If rates are seductively cheap then there may well be a problem. A cut-price bargain, without adequate explanation, should raise alarm bells. One counterattack is to offer a far lower amount of rental than the listed rate and if the offer is accepted quickly that is a pretty sure sign of a scammer.
Have a suspicious mind
Keep a hawk eye out for suspect behaviours during your communication with the renter. If he or she is evasive, or hounding you constantly to make a decision or a payment, that should send up a red flag.
Bad spelling, foreign telephone numbers, names related to the location (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org) or a refusal to share information are all warning signs. Insist on speaking to the renter in person.
If you are concerned about a rental advert that looks suspicious, report the listing to Gumtree immediately on help.gumtree.co.za. Should you find that you’ve fallen prey to a scam, be sure to notify both Gumtree and the SAPS as the two parties work hand in hand to combat cybercrime.