By Sarah Ebrahim
Thousands of South Africans make their holiday plans late and are now hunting for last-minute Christmas and New Year accommodation.
This year, due to the tough economic climate, there’s more accommodation than usual still available online for the festive season in many, normally over-subscribed, areas of the country.
Gumtree SA’s GM-Director Claire Cobbledick says that while there are good deals to be had and the online space is getting more secure every year, holidaymakers need to exercise caution to avoid fraud: “Some people forget common sense when they’re under pressure on a deadline to find somewhere to stay”.
Cobbledick says the most common scam is to rent out a property the advertiser does not own or to rent to several people at the same time.
She suggests the following precautionary measures:
- Don’t be taken in by photos. Sometimes a scammer will pull images from a legitimate property site. Be very wary of low-grade, cropped or pixelated photos. Before committing to a booking, ask the advertiser to send additional photos of the property and, if possible, use Google Street View to confirm that the property is at the address advertised.
- If you know someone in the area, ask them to call round to check on the property and the lettor.
- Ask the lettor for references of previous guests. Not only can you confirm the legitimacy of the site and the quality of the accommodation, you can also get some tips about the place and the neighbourhood.
- If rates are seductively cheap then there may well be a problem. A cut-price bargain, without adequate explanation, should raise alarm bells. As should a lettor hounding you for immediate payment.
- Exercise caution if there are duplicate ads on different websites.
- Contact details are an important signal. Warning signs include: a lettor who is evasive about providing direct contacts; bad spelling; a foreign phone number; an e-mail address which features a description of the property (e.g. email@example.com) as this is a trick scammers use to keep track of venues.
There are plenty of excellent last-minute deals available during the festive season. Make sure that you do the necessary homework to find yours.