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Fraudsters target homeowners renting holiday properties

Criminals based in Ukraine are targeting people renting out holiday homes in Scotland via a counterfeit cheque scam.

Fraudsters have been contacting home owners advertising properties on a popular website and offering to pay by cheque instead of credit card while citing fears of online fraud.

Once a booking is made a counterfeit cashier’s cheque is sent for more than the deposit and people are asked to refund the overpayment. If they do so, the cheque bounces and the homeowner is left out of pocket.

It is the latest in a series of frauds targeted at the internet holiday industry. The Ferret was alerted to the so-called “Ukrainian scam” by people advertising a holiday flat in Scotland on HomeAway.co.uk.

The couple from Perth – who wish to remain anonymous for security reasons – were emailed by a woman in Ukraine who asked to book their flat this summer.

The couple said: “We were slightly concerned when they advised that, due to online fraud, they would like to send us a cheque. We looked up ‘Ukraine holiday rental scams’ on the internet and could see that other HomeAway customers had been duped.”

Other HomeAway customers have written about being targeted.

One US homeowner said on the website’s forum: “Just got taken for $1270.00!!! (£832) A beautiful looking cashier’s check arrived drawn on an existing American (sic) bank in Oklahoma. It was an overpayment of $1270 which I then wired back to the Ukraine.

“But of course it was a scam!! I thought I was OK because it was a cashier’s check and my bank had honored it! Low and behold cashiers (sic) checks are being forged now, with watermarks, drawn on legit institutions! Great forgery I have to say.”

Another HomeAway customer wrote: “I manage around 30 properties and would receive on average three (inquiries from Ukraine) per week.”

Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud and cyber-crime reporting centre, run by City of London Police, said that 4851 people have been conned by counterfeit cheques since 2013 . Action Fraud did not have specific figures for this latest crime but issued a warning to holiday home owners across Britain.

A spokesman for Action Fraud said: “Action Fraud has received reports of this kind of scam. To protect yourself from this kind of scam, never accept a cheque for more money than you were expecting to receive. If someone does send you a cheque for an unknown sum, ask them to send the cheque again for the right amount before going to bank it. If you require advice you can phone Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 and speak to an adviser.”

HomeAway.co.uk is based in London and is part of HomeAway Inc, headquartered in Austin, Texas, USA. The company describes itself as “the world’s #1 choice for holiday home properties” and has a portfolio of websites across the world including OwnersDirect.co.uk, VacationRentals.com in America, and Homelidays.com in France.

A spokesman for HomeAway said: “Sadly, fraud effects the travel industry as a whole, so along with our peers we are constantly trying to find new ways to combat the ever changing tactics used by scammers. This particular technique is rare, however, we encourage all of our Owners to read and follow the security advice available on our website.”

Last year, criminals hacked into HomeAway’s website and hijacked emails sent to property owners and sold non-existent holidays.

A version of this story was published by The Times on 8th June 2015.

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