On 4 July, a property owner named Gillian was surprised by unexpected visitors to her north London home.
“Someone knocked on my door. I opened it and it was this poor, very tired woman, presumably from Hong Kong, her daughter at the end of the gate, with hundreds of cases, it seemed to me, obviously just come from the airport.
“They said they’d booked my house with Booking.com.”
The pair were the first of around 100 people who thought they had reserved Gillian’s property in north London through the global accommodation booking website.
“I said, ‘No you haven’t, because it’s not on Booking.com’. I’ve never let this house.
“She looked aghast and I said, ‘You’ll just have to go back to them. I’m sorry, there’s some misunderstanding’.”
Gillian revealed her story to Shari Vahl, reporter for the BBC Radio 4 consumer affairs programme You and Yours.
“A few hours later I had about three or four people visiting knocking on my door saying they’d booked my house with Booking.com,” she said
“They came from all over the world: Australians who’d just arrived, there were some people from Saudi Arabia, some people from the north of England, and I just couldn’t believe it.”
One concerned prospective guest even called Booking.com on the morning of the intended stay but was assured the property was genuine and the reservation was secure.
Gillian found the listing for her address in north London on Booking.com – but the pictures were from an entirely different property, in Chelsea, and had been unlawfully copied from a legitimate accommodation site.
“It was obviously a scam, and someone had used my address.”
“I felt so sorry for those tourists knocking on my. All I could do was send them away.
“I feel very worried about it. They’re very nice people, but perhaps one day we might get some people knocking on the door who actually are quite aggressive. I feel very vulnerable.”
Despite Gillian reporting the scam the following day, a further 80 people who thought they had made reservations through Booking.com arrived before 29 July – including a family from Los Angeles who had paid £1,100 for their stay.
The listing was finally removed on 13 July, and Booking.com said customers who had been taken in by the scam would be contacted by customer service.
But on 29 July, Jo Duckenfield and her daughter, Olivia, turned up to stay on a weekend away from their home in Portsmouth. They had booked on 13 July and were planning to attend the Lady Gaga gig at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
“I started looking around for somewhere to stay [and] found this flat on Booking.com,” Ms Duckenfield told You and Yours.
She said she had queried the status of the property on on the morning of arrival with Booking.com, and had been assured it would be fine.
Ms Duckenfield said: “I won’t use them again, ever.”
A spokesperson for Booking.com said: “We take safety and security very seriously, and every week, we facilitate millions of stays with the vast majority taking place with absolutely no problems.
“Scams are unfortunately a battle many industries are facing against unscrupulous fraudsters looking to take advantage and it is something we are tackling head on.
“We have a number of robust security measures in place, but in the very rare instance there may be an issue with a specific property we always investigate immediately.
“We can confirm this property has been completely removed from our site and all customers are being contacted by a member of our customer service team to apologise and offer any support required in relation to refunds, relocations and additional fees, as well as of course extending our apologies to the homeowner.”
The exact nature of the scam is unclear, but it may have involved asking prospective guests to send money by bank transfer, outside the Booking.com system.
You can listen to Shari Vahl’s report here. The item on Booking.com begins eight minutes into the programme.
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