By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA
Police are urging the public to be on their guard when booking holiday stays after it received 20 reports of fraudulent ads on Facebook for accommodation in Co Donegal.
The scam first came to light in May of this year and involves the fraudulent use of images of genuine holiday accommodation in Co Donegal, the PSNI said.
Under a number of different names, the ads are placed on Facebook Marketplace, which is used to buy or sell items on the social media platform.
Victims pay deposits of between £100 to £500 to try to book the accommodation.
Once the funds have been transferred, the scammer blocks the victim on social media, preventing any further communication.
“They believe they’re paying for a holiday rental in County Donegal but, in reality, they’ve been swindled,” the PSNI said in a statement.
“The result is the victim is left out of pocket and hopes of a dream getaway dashed.”
The PSNI has said it has received 20 reports of this nature, but believe there may be other cases.
A further four reports have been made in relation to a similar online scam in relation to holiday accommodation in Portrush, Co Antrim, where victims have paid deposits of between £100 and £200.
Similar to the Donegal scam, these victims hear nothing from the scammer once deposits are paid.
Chair of Scamwise NI Partnership, PSNI Superintendent Gerard Pollock, is warning people not to be conned.
“As the cost of living increases and more of us are holidaying at home, it’s understandable that people go in search of the best deal. However, what can appear as a bargain holiday on a social media platform or an online advert, is all too often the start of a scam, which will cost you hundreds of pounds and leave you without that getaway,” he said.
“It might sound obvious, but take some time to do your research on the company, or person you are booking with. Don’t rely on just one website or review.
“If it’s a fake there’s a good chance others will write about their experience and some basic internet research will find it.
“Look for the logo, check to see if the company is a member of Abta and, if you’re booking a flight, check to see it’s approved by Atol.
“Never pay by bank transfer – the safest way to pay is by credit card and, where at all possible, avoid paying by bank transfer to someone you do not know or have not met in person.
“If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.”
Police are encouraging anyone who believes they’ve fallen victim to such a scam, and have not reported it, to do so now by calling 0300 123 2040, contacting your bank, or online at www.actionfraud.police.uk.
An Garda Siochana said in a statement that it has no reports of this nature currently listed, but would advise those booking accommodation to be fraud aware.