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Spring bridges and summer vacation: how to avoid online scams?

Caught up in the excitement of booking the best place at the best cost, we may run into accommodation and vacation proposals that are not entirely transparent, which could ruin our bridges and vacations and even cause significant financial damage. But can one try to avoid scams?


In the funny film Odio l'estate by Aldo, Giovanni and Giacomo, the narrative cue is a misunderstanding that leads three families to book the same beach house at the same time. A misunderstanding that then, in that case, allows the many people involved to develop a constructive friendship.

Unfortunately, however, things do not always end so well, and on the Web, from May to late September, it is all a flurry of news stories-true or fake-of families and groups of friends traveling hundreds of miles only to discover that the cottage they booked and paid for months in advance does not exist, has been demolished for years, or overlooks a landfill instead of the Caribbean shoreline promised by the advertising images.

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Unpleasant and even economically troublesome situations that can happen, compromising the coveted vacation as much as the mood of those who have made repeated transfers in anticipation of the 2 weeks of sand, chilled wine and pasticciotti. Nightmarish situations that can sometimes be avoided by shunning private renters who lack references and who accompany ads with improbable pictures, details of furniture or the bathroom, without showing instead relevant elements, such as the rooms, the view or the general condition of the facilities they place on the vacation market. But even when relying on real estate or brokerage agencies there can be nasty surprises around the corner. 

To try to secure oneself from brazen scams or not-so-truthful ads, of the kind that populate Booking, on Airbnb, on FB and on many other dedicated portals, one can start with price. An element that usually leads us, instinctively, to start with the lowest and then move up in onerousness. Again, as in any market, if we are faced with an excessively outsized offer, with a huge discount compared to competitors, there is probably something going on. And it will be worthwhile, if we really feel up to the risk, to do hair and back to the rental property: reviews, photos, videos, comments. A real investigation to ascertain all the - possible - wizardry and then decide, calmly, whether we are willing to pay that price (in any sense). It may happen - and it does happen - in fact, that a house or apartment located far from the sea or major points of attraction has a lower cost. A handicap we may be willing to accept, possibly after verifying the actual distance between point A and point B: any self-respecting advertisement will evoke "a few minutes" of travel time, but the presence of hairpin bends, mule tracks or very narrow roads could make the journey more challenging than stated.

With respect to lodging qualities, it is good to remember that many regions impose identification codes on renters to prevent black market, squatting, and abuse. The fact that a facility is registered, of course, will not necessarily guarantee quality of sleep, scenery and newly renovated furniture, but it will reassure us that the facility itself really exists. And that is already a good start. 

For the other details, it will be precisely necessary not to compulsively click BOOK right away after scrolling through the first 3 images. Better to spend some time delving, even with Google Maps, into the actual location of the accommodation. The distance to attractions we will spend time on during the vacation. The ratings and photos, perhaps verified, of other clients who have chosen the same property for their vacation.

Additional meticulousness will be necessary in this regard, since not all reviews are equal. Without adumbrating malfeasance or questionable conduct, it is easy to verify that in the most well-known booking channels there are hotels, resorts and b&b's that boast stellar reviews from users who tend to write very little. In many cases only one review. Better then to skim and sift, to consider the reviews of those who actually travel and write for real and do not tend to extol the stupendous sea view of a room in the Fassa Valley. 

All this research, this time spent on in-depth investigations, these Sherlock-esque inquiries, will not put us 100 percent safe from scammers, malicious people or unserious owners. But at least we will be at peace with ourselves in case of undesirable unforeseen events.



Illustration by Gloria Dozio - Acrimònia Studios