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I am planning to rent an apartment for a year in Cambridge, UK. We liked a property, but the owner wants to rent it through booking.com, and he is physically located in Switzerland. He sent us the following email.

Hi ****,

I am sure you are aware of the current virus pandemic spread worldwide; all doctors here in Switzerland are now the 1st line of defense in the race to control the spread of the virus. Since I'm working over 16 hours/day to help my colleagues to fight this pandemic and as well it's not recommended to get a flight these days, a viewing before completing the transaction through Booking.com would not be possible.

Also a video tour of the property is available if you would like to check it out: URL Allow me to explain the Booking.com process step by step.

  • Upon your request, I will list the property online on Booking.com for GBP 1,100 / month with all the bills included.

  • I will send you the booking invitation through the Booking.com system so you will have 24 hours to confirm it or the invitation will expire.

  • Once you receive the booking invitation from Booking.com, you will have to choose your check-in date ( this would be the date that you would prefer to move in ) & staying period ( minimum one month and maximum five years )

  • After registration, you will have to pay £ 2,200 to Booking.com to get your reservation confirmed. The payment of £ 2,200 would be used as a 1 (one) month of rent + 1 (one) month security deposit. You can use it as the last month of rent or take it back at the end of your stay.

  • Booking.com will automatically provide the tenancy agreement. Booking.com's policy allows maximum 1-month bookings, but choosing a more extended period will enable you to have the contract for it and receive the invoice each month during the selected period.

  • Your deposit will be held by Booking.com in their system until your check-in, after which will be put in a DPS as per law.

  • After Booking.com confirms your payment of £ 2,200 Keycafe ( https://keycafe.com ) will provide you the location of the keys since it is their main partner in these transactions. If you don't like the property for any reason, Booking will refund your money on the same day. If, after the viewing, you decide to rent it, you will have to sign the tenancy agreement and forward it to me by fax or email.

    Let me know when would be the best time for you to list the property online on Booking.com and forward you the listing.

Is this a genuine method to rent properties in a different country through booking.com, or is it part of an elaborate scam?

  • 20
    A lot of boxes on the "signs of a scam" list are being ticked here. – ceejayoz Mar 29 at 3:06
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    And here are examples of people being scammed in exactly this fashion: partner.booking.com/en-gb/community/homes-apartments/… community.withairbnb.com/t5/Hosting/… – ceejayoz Mar 29 at 3:08
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    @Bravo How did you find the property in the first place? Rule no1: if you feel something’s not quite right, it usually isn’t. – Traveller Mar 29 at 7:09
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    Consumer columns in UK newspapers suggest that even the genuine offers on booking.com are to be avoided, because very little protection or help is offered in the event of disputes or problems. – Michael Harvey Mar 29 at 10:58
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    Bear in mind that in the current Coronavirus crisis, criminals are likely to be taking advantage of the confusion to increase their scam attempts and also to throw in some new scams that people won't have seen before, yesterday I received a text message claiming to be from my phone provider saying that that they had been unable to process my phone bill and directing to me a fake website that would have tried to get information about my bank account details. – Tom Mar 29 at 17:57
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This is 100% to be a scam. Let's see why:

  1. a viewing before completing the transaction through Booking.com would not be possible. <= this is where you should run screaming and not read anything else. Even if the place exists, how would you know it's not a mold infested, badly insulated garbage heap?
  2. If they wanted to do a real long term rent through an app they would use airbnb which allows for this and not booking.com which doesn't. It is a huge red flag they want to use a platform not suited for long term.
  3. I will send you the booking invitation through the Booking.com system <= once again, airbnb has this but even there only after enquiring after a property, Booking.com very simply does not have such a feature. This person is talking nonsense, we will see why.
  4. Booking.com will automatically provide the tenancy agreement. <= the very reason Booking.com stops at 30 days is because in a lot of jurisdictions 30 days is where a short term becomes a tenancy and booking.com does not want to mess with tenancy agreements. Booking.com most assuredly will not provide a tenancy agreement! I have first booked an apartment with Booking.com close to five years ago and there's nothing even remotely close to a tenancy agreement in all those emails, I reviewed a few again.
  5. If you don't like the property for any reason, Booking will refund your money on the same day. <= Booking.com doesn't exactly work like that. As this blog post shows, the host sets the cancellation policy and up until very very recently the scammer was able to siphon the funds off as soon as the reservation becomes 90% non-refundable, otherwise on the guest’s check-in date. See for example here. Right now, because of the COVID-19 situation, they can only get their money one day past check in per this update but I somewhat suspect they are not 100% up-to-date. Also, do you want to convince Booking.com that the apartment simply doesn't exist within less than 24 hour before your money is gone? If Booking.com doesn't side with you then your only avenue is to sue them in a Dutch court of law.

Finally, if I needed to make a grim bet, I would put my money on this being nothing more than bait-and-switch and they don't want to use Booking.com: you agree to this, and after some hemming and hawing and probably a few juicy photos they come back complaining about some problems with booking.com listing and ask for a plain vanilla WU wire. By this time you are hopefully hooked enough to go ahead with it, if not, what's there to lose for them? You can even test it by agreeing and see what happens, just don't send money to them...

And if you are wondering how people rent long term in a different country: they might have boots on the ground (company or friend) and if they don't then just do a short term rent much like it'd be a vacation and get a place once you are there. Easy as pie. I did so when I landed in Vancouver.

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    Thanks for coming out of your hibernation and a great answer! – Bravo Mar 29 at 14:29
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    The poster was already uncertain about whether the person was a scammer or not, I would recommend against 'testing' and 'playing along' as that is just giving the scammer more opportunities to try and persuade them. – Tom Mar 29 at 18:01
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    I quite agree, rent short-term and then find a place you like better once you have boots on ground. That way you know the lay of the land, how nice/dangerous the neighborhoods are, all the stuff about transportation that you didn't think about, etc. etc. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Mar 30 at 2:38
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    On the international front, one of the important missing steps missing for a long term let in the UK is the document check. The UK government have moved a lot of the duty of care on finding illegal immigrants on to landlords. – origimbo Mar 30 at 2:44
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    Adding to no.1 : If this was not a scam they would probably be able to have someone else (neighbour, relative, friend) let you view the property. – Sabine Mar 30 at 11:18

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