Hotel and Accommodation Scam: An International Student Guide
When Kemi Adeniji planned to move to Canada, finding a place to rent off-campus was an important need. She didn’t know where to live, who to trust, or whether she was paying a high rent online. She decided to stay in a cheap hotel for a few days to avoid scammers taking advantage of her urgency to find a suitable room and lack of knowledge. Turning up in Canada after several hours of flying, Kemi realized that she had suffered from a hotel scam. She had booked a hotel from a fake travel website.
Renting a house abroad can take up a huge chunk of traveller's budget, so you must be attentive and careful. This guide will help you stay away from hotel and accommodation scams.
Common Accommodation Scams
1. Phantom rentals: Scammers advertise a place that is not for rent or does not exist.
2. Hijacked advertisement: A real place is advertised with altered contact information.
3. Already rented: In this type of housing scam, a landlord uses an advertisement to collect application fees or deposits for rented places.
4. Missing amenities: Scammers can list amenities that don’t exist in places online.
5. Bait-and-switch: A landlord requests a deposit or signs a lease for a different place than the advertised one.
6. Suspicious money requests: Tenants are asked to pay before seeing apartments. Sometimes, it comes as a holding or an illegal security deposit, upfront fees, or a full year's rent.
7. Identity theft: Scammers can use ads to make you reveal sensitive data.
How to Protect Yourself from Accommodation Scams
Don’t Pay With Cash
You should not use wire transfers, cash, or hard-to-trace money payments like Moneygram to pay for your accommodation. We recommend you use money orders, bank cheques, or email money transfers after you have confirmed rental legitimacy. When you pay with a credit card, it can protect your payment.
Note: Landlords can request a refundable key deposit and last month's rent after signing the lease. You don't have to pay holding fees, application fees, cleaning fees, damage or security deposits, etc. You receive a rent receipt at the end of the transaction.
Don’t rent sight-unseen
You should visit an apartment before you make any financial commitment. If you cannot view a property live, you can request a live virtual viewing. In addition, it does not stop you from ensuring the landlord is genuine.
Don’t share confidential information
To avoid identity theft, you must not reveal confidential information like bank details or Social Insurance Numbers (SIN).
Meet the landlord
While you may not always meet landlords because of location, you should insist on seeing the landlord to reduce housing scams. However, if the landlord is available, you should meet them.
Speak with the current tenants
Current tenants can help you decide on paying for an apartment abroad.
Conduct basic research
Before you decide on a room or apartment, you should Google the unit's address, including the landlord’s name, email, and phone number.
Stay away from too-good-to-be-true rent rates
Don't jump on a far below-market rent to avoid getting into trouble when you pay for accommodation.
Avoid high-pressure sales tactics
If you feel pressured into sending money or signing a lease, do not continue with a housing arrangement.
Demand a written lease
You should request a written lease to avoid accommodation fraud and learn about the rights and responsibilities of both parties. In addition, ensure that the signed lease identifies the management company or the owner.
The last thing travellers expect after suffering jetlag is to suffer from hotel booking scams. The privacy and security that hotels offer make such rental housing convenient and more acceptable.
However, many things could go wrong when you don’t make the proper hotel booking arrangement. Here is a list of some of the hotel scams you can avoid abroad:
The Midnight Phone Call
Some scammers can pose as front desk officers to use midnight phone calls and defraud their victims. The calls come as an alarm to your credit card details not being processed and request for your card's number and name.
If you get bounced out of a hotel you booked into by a hotel attendant for an alternative room because of overbooked issues, you must not buy into it. You can threaten to call the authorities if they insist on taking you to a different hotel.
Scammers can steal your credentials when you use public Wi-Fi. You must be careful in using such amenities.
If the hotel description online does not appear according to what you see, you should know something is wrong.
'Friendly' Hotel Guests
Locals, rather than hotel stayers, are the culprits of this scam. You should be wary of friendly hotel guests in the bar or other open places. In addition, detach from friendly strangers who are not guests.
While room maintenance scams are uncommon, you should be careful when people come in to fix things.
Best Tips for Avoiding Fraud While Booking Travel
Learn How to Spot Booking Scams
The presence of grammatical errors or small changes in the font should be a red flag.
1. You can check out the site’s contact page for a physical mailing address and another form of contact
2. Plug the address into the Google Safe Browsing Transparency Report.
3. Use https://whois.domaintools.com/ to check the domain’s age
In addition, here is a list of some signs of potential scam features:
- Only non-secure payment
- Requests for you to reset your password or pay a fine
- Claims that your account has been suspended or breached
- No security certificate on their website
- Odd letters/characters/symbols in place of other letters
Check the Reviews
Some websites can pay for positive reviews, which is misleading. Social media platforms have become a reliable way of checking websites. Furthermore, learn to use trusted review sites to check booking sites like
2. The Better Business Bureau
3. Angie’s List
4. Consumer Affairs
Signs of Hotel Booking Site Scam
You should look out for the following signs:
- Prices that may seem too low for a great deal
- URLs are not straightforward
- A blurry or unofficial logo
- An HTTP URL instead of an HTTPS URL
Book Through a Company with a Solid Reputation
We recommend you book through a trusted source or make your booking payments with apps like Pay4Me. Here is why people use trusted sources:
- The company verifies the cancellation policies for you.
- You may be entitled to a full refund if anything goes wrong in the booking process or dedicated 24/7 customer support.
- You get the booking details and booking number right away.
Get an Email Confirmation
You should ask for an email confirmation, but most sites have an automated process. However, if you suspect a red flag, call your bank and dispute the charge.
- The safest way is to book directly with a trusted company or established hotel.
- Ensure that the travel company is a member of a trade body such as the Air Travel Organisers Licensing (ATOL), ABTA, or others.
- Exercise caution when booking independently.
- Research the property or hotel that you are booking.
- You should verify that the address exists through web searches and online maps.
- Do the images match those in the advert? Check whether there are any reviews for the accommodation from previous visitors.
Are you thinking of making your accommodation or hotel payment? If you don't want to suffer delays after payments, consider using payment apps like Pay4Me.