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My in-laws booked a villa in Poland for the family vacation, and I found out too late they already paid half of the price by a bank transfer. Apart from the bank transfer itself I didn't find any red flags but nothing strongly supportive of the venue's legitimacy either. They have a website, are listed on Booking.com, and the only review on Google Maps is by the owner. I read in the comments here that payment by bank transfer is not unheard of in Europe when renting directly from a landlord. The owner has been corresponding with us, is responsive and has decent English. He sent us a rental agreement to sign but I have no idea if it would hold for us in a Polish court. I did not read it. Overall it does appear like this is just some family's country house which they figured they could now rent as rural Poland is gaining popularity among tourists.

Am I overreacting? My in-laws want to pay the full price in advance to get a lower fare but I am definitely against that. Do I have any more methods to verify this rental is legit?


Post-travel edit: The rental was genuine, the owner is a lovely person and we thoroughly enjoyed our vacation. By now the place has multiple reviews on Google Maps (including mine). Hopefully this makes it clear it is legitimate for future skeptics who read too many questions tagged 'scam' on SE sites.

  • 2
    I tried to book them on booking.com, and realised the following: they are fairly new, starting this February on booking.com, I couldn't find a timeslot in this year when I can book, so probably they are full - that means something. On the other hand, I can't verify it 100% so I don't add this as an answer only as a comment. – Mcload Mar 7 '18 at 9:54
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    If you don't trust it, then book via Booking.com Here in Europe CC are not that common so bank transfers are a lot more common for the owner of the property to use as a guaranty you are coming. – Brilsmurfffje Mar 7 '18 at 15:24
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    Could that be the first "Is that a scam" question on stackexchange with isn't a scam? – Eric Duminil Mar 7 '18 at 21:49
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    A bank transfer is much safer than Western Union or Moneygram. Those are invariably scams. I have seen such scams on VRBO, Craigslist, and a few other site, but I have never seen one on booking.com. I suspect they have a vetting process. And I suspect unlike the others they will help you if you are cheated. – Andrew Lazarus Mar 8 '18 at 1:29
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    We even split restaurant bills using bank transfers here. There is this or cash - and it's cash that raises suspicion. Bank transfers are usually fully traceable and constitute evidence in court. If what you're using is an actual bank transfer: SWIFT (international), SEPA (EU) or Elixir (Poland) – Agent_L Mar 8 '18 at 13:45
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It is VERY popular in Poland that you book accommodation directly with the landlord via email or a phone. Most of so called "private accommodation" (kwatery prywatne) are not listed on booking.com or airbnb, because prices in Poland are still quite low and the fees would increase it. The website looks legitimate, so I'd say there's no big risk.

On the other hand, from my experience, you usually don't pay full price in advance, but rather something around 20-30%, and you pay the rest upon arrival.

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    there are lots of other websites where their ads are posted, sometimes they only contain short description and contact infos – Kamil Mikolajczyk Mar 7 '18 at 12:08
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    often they are hosted by city authorities, so that local landlords could get free and easy promotion to bring more tourists in – Kamil Mikolajczyk Mar 7 '18 at 12:09
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    I often rent ski accommodation in France from private landlords and pay in full in advance by bank transfer. I see nothing odd about this arrangement at all. You certainly won't have any consumer protections (as you might if you were renting from a business), but there is no hint of a scam about it. – Mark Perryman Mar 7 '18 at 13:52
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    Not only in Poland. Also in plenty of other European countries. I just booked like that in Isle of Man. I've done it many times and I've never encountered any problems. – gerrit Mar 7 '18 at 14:39
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    "villa management firm" sounds like a huge business, and I'm talking about small private owners who happen to have a house with couple of extra rooms for tourists to rent (not like a couch surfing though, they are private rooms, etc. I'm not sure if this is Poland-specific type of accommodation) - it's cheap enough so that there's no point in negotiating the price upon arrival, and on the other hand - it is low risk for landlords, in high season they would probably find new tourists in no time – Kamil Mikolajczyk Mar 8 '18 at 7:01
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According to the wayback machine, the contact number for this site in 2013 was +48 666 111 001 which is the same as it is today. They were also renting out the place in 2013 and have the same photos. If you call that number and get to speak to someone who you can confirm is the same person the booking was made with, I'd be pretty confident it's not a scam. To do so would have to be quite a sophisticated operation taking over both the site and phone number.

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    Sharp thought to check it this way out, I missed that. – Thorsten S. Mar 9 '18 at 14:42
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At least the most telltale warning signs are missing.

First, it contains Polish, German and English which is to be expected because Germans are one of the main tourists (and Masuria is really beautiful). The German is very good and I can say from experience that scammers have severe problems with it.

The address seems also to be correct, the Hotel Europa has the Aleja Wojska Polskiego 37 which fits.

The phone number is a typical Polish mobile phone number.

Last there is a snapshot of the area from the port:

enter image description here

And yes, it looks exactly like the photos from the website.

So currently I do not see any reason that it is a scam.

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    It could still be. A common scam in Canada is to rent an apartment or condo that you do not own, so my advice is try another way of finding contact info or public listing for ownership of the property. – Itai Mar 7 '18 at 17:45
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    While possible, I think it is unlikely. Scammers operate cost-effective and putting up a scam with a real address and a website with accurate photos are likely to warn the real owner. You as scammer don't want to be detected prematurely, so you give out scarce information and put your offer only on booking sites, not public as a website. They also don't put much effort in their scams because it is sufficient to dupe the most gullible customers. – Thorsten S. Mar 7 '18 at 19:41
  • It's like the e-mail Nigerian prince scam. The details are deliberately poorly worded so that anyone stupid enough to fall for it are easy targets. Most scammers are super lazy to begin with. They could've just get a real job if they needed money. – Nelson Mar 8 '18 at 10:08
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    @Itai There are scams in Canada? I thought everyone was just really nice and didn't do any of that stuff! :) – Grant Garrison Mar 9 '18 at 4:47
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    @GrantGarrison Of course! He is talking about a scamer located in Nigeria renting a condo in Canada. Obviously more profitable than the opposit. – Madlozoz Mar 9 '18 at 9:28
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I find it interesting that you consider "the bank transfer itself" to be a "Red Flag". In my opinion, that is the result of media attention on the bad instead of the good.

To address your concern of overreaction, I have a theory that the proportion of completed bank transfers that are instigated with malicious intent is microscopically insignificant compared to "above board" transfers (similar to the fact that we're 258x more likely to die by choking than during a flight, but the airline stories creating better ratings for the News Companies.)

I tried fairly exhaustively to prove this theory but it's a tough dataset to gather (partly because most authorities don't like to advertise criminal success), so I couldn't get enough solid data to quote a fact except for a single year's data for the UK, where only about one out of every million pounds were transferred fraudulently.


The next thought that jumped to mind, that wasn't clear from the question, is, initially, "who approached whom"?

If your family found this villa advertised somewhere, or perhaps heard of it through word-of-mouth, that's a lot less likely to be a scam, compared to if they received a "random nighttime phone call from a stranger" offering them "the deal of the century".


I checked out the links you included and (in my limited experience) the palce seemed as legitimate as any other (although it's silly that Google allows a sole review to be the owner), but then I had an idea to confirm.

Unfortunately you didn't specify the date range that your family booked, because I was hoping to contact the villa before writing this post, and try to book the villa during the same period that your family has it booked!

I'd say that if he turned me away, that's a pretty good indicator that there's is no fraudulent activity. I can't imagine a fraudster replying with, "I'm sorry, we're already scamming someone during that time frame."


Keep in mind, your question here has been viewed 4000 times in 14 hours, and there's still a lot more time before the date of travel, so this post is likely rising towards up the list of Google Search results for the villa!

This could result in a number of things:

  • Maybe the owner will angry that you doubted his honour (unlikely)

  • Maybe it is a scam and villains are packing their bags right now (or the legitimate owners are already in contact with authorities!) (unlikely)

  • Maybe everyone's going to have a good laugh about it one day (likely), and, hopefully: :)

  • The owner could use this to his benefit, capitalizing on all of the free advertising & chatter you've generated, perhaps even with an unofficial certification...

image

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    Regarding the last part: I purposefully refrained from writing the place's name or specific location in the question for this reason. Right now googling the venue does not raise this page even when appending "scam". The owner may still find out through the traffic generated by the link to his website, but I don't think I have caused him any bad association considering the responses here. – buzjwa Mar 8 '18 at 8:22
  • Your statistics are interesting. The UK uses bank transfer much less between individuals than Germany does (cheques are unheard of). OTOH, i suspect that the 1 in a million is skewed by the mega-million transfers that go on in the city every day - and they are very careful not to be scammed. – Martin Bonner Mar 8 '18 at 21:46
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    This seems like a decent answer, but personally I would find it more readable with a bit less boldface and italics. And I say that as someone with an unfortunate habit of overusing italics myself. – Ilmari Karonen Mar 10 '18 at 21:29
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I live in the Czech Republic, and using bank transfers to rent out a villa is pretty normal here.
One idea I haven't seen in the above answers is to find out who owns the property being rented. If you know someone who speaks Polish, a quick Google search found this website, with useful links: http://www.migrant.info.pl/land-and-mortgage-register.html You would need to know exactly where the property is, which should be doable from an online map service. If the owner has the same name (or at least surname) as the person renting the villa, you can be more confident in their legitimacy.

  • I don't think you can obtain information about ownership of the property that easily, especially online. Why would it be publicly available? – Kamil Mikolajczyk Mar 9 '18 at 20:27
  • Also, the website you posted doesn't contain such information, it only says you can try to find it out in a local court – Kamil Mikolajczyk Mar 9 '18 at 20:27

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