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Which? warns of suspected scam holiday booking website

Amsterdam houseboat site allegedly tricks visitors into making bank transfers

Which? warns of suspected scam holiday booking website

Holiday booking site Myhouseboatsamsterdam.com has reportedly tricked victims into making bank transfers by posing as a legitimate business, leaving them hundreds of pounds out of pocket. 

The site is currently offline, shortly after taking £835 from one victim who contacted Which? to warn others.

We contacted both the site and its hosting provider to express our concerns. Within 24 hours, the site was down, although Myhouseboatsamsterdam.com has yet to respond to our calls.

Which? has also contacted Myhouseboatamsterdam.com, a site with a very similar domain name. It told us it has nothing to do with this site and contacted the police as soon as it discovered it.

Persuaded to pay by bank transfer

Having found the website via a Google search for houseboats to rent in Amsterdam, the unsuspecting victim exchanged multiple emails, as well as a rental contract, before transferring the money via Transferwise as requested:

‘I became suspicious after I had made the payment and I didn’t get an official receipt. I asked for a refund and they strung me along for a while, saying that the cash would be put in my account.

‘I had already reported them to my bank, Action Fraud and Transferwise while they were still telling me this. They’ve now cut all contact.’

At least two others have left similar reports about the site on Tripadvisor, with one saying that the professional tone to the site and money-back guarantee seemed convincing.

Myhouseboatsamsterdam.com listed the same business address as a site called Bookahouseboat.com, a legitimate company, which has confirmed to us that it has nothing to do with the site and is horrified that the same address may have been used to trick people.

Getting your money back

Paying by bank transfer offers very little protection, although you should always report fraud to your bank as soon as possible, in case it’s able to recover the money for you.

If you paid by card, you have a much better chancce of getting your money back, particularly if it was a credit card:

  • Section 75 (credit cards only): This law makes your credit card provider jointly liable with the retailer if there’s a problem with your purchase, as long as you’ve spent £100- £30,000.
  • Chargeback (debit and credit cards): This applies to both debit and credit card purchases of any value, but isn’t enshrined in law  Amex, Mastercard and Visa run voluntary schemes that participating banks sign up to. You should ask your bank or credit card provider to process a chargeback from the bank that collected the payment. A time limit of 120 days applies, starting from when you first became aware of the problem.

Following a Which? super-complaint victims of bank transfer fraud will be better protected, but new rules aren’t expected to come into force until the end of 2018.

How to avoid holiday booking scams

  1. Check review sites such as TripAdvisor and Trustpilot if you want to book accommodation on an unknown site, although be mindful that a scam site may have bogus reviews.
  2. Do some more digging, such as checking for verified social media accounts, or finding out how old the site is on a domain checker such as whois.domaintools.com. If it’s less than a year old, think carefully about whether you can trust it.
  3. Use Google Maps’ Street View to compare any photos supplied online. You can also right-click images to search for them in Google and find out if they’ve been lifted from a completely different listing.
  4. Airbnb bans users from messaging or paying each other outside of its internal systems, so if you’re asked to make a direct or wire transfer, instead of paying through the site as normal, alarm bells should be ringing.
  5. Credit cards offer the best protection for payments over £100 under Section 75, but you can also make a chargeback claim if you paid any amount using a debit or credit card. If card payments aren’t possible, you should at least ask whether the owner accepts a PayPal transfer, which means you can claim on its buyer protection scheme.

Find out more: how to spot scams on letting sites

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