Long gone are the days when we would go into our High Street travel agents, pick up some brochures and hope that the glossy pictures really did reflect reality. Word of mouth was often the only way we had to validate our choice before we went anywhere which is why so many people went back to the same place year after year.
Then came the Internet and we were able to use tools like Google Maps to make sure our hotel room wasn’t overlooking a building site, TripAdvisor to give us some honest (and others not so) reviews of other’s stays and general searches online would reveal some of the “hidden” extras that may ruin a holiday.
But what if you could create all of the above yourself and give the impression that your holiday home is perfect, even though it doesn’t exist? Fraudsters are skilled in using digital marketing and SEO just like genuine brands are just as we saw in the case of the Grand Pearl Hotel in Manchester back in 2019.
The scammers built a genuine-looking website, added some fake online reviews and used SEO and Social Media advertising to drive interest and booking for the 5-star hotel in the centre of Manchester. Except it didn’t really exist. The address, whilst genuine, was actually the Midland Hotel, with the pictures used on the website taken from various other hotel websites from around the world. You can read all about this luxury hotel here.
The cost of registering the domain name is less than $10, setting up a website a few $ more and thus the return on investment for the fraudsters is one booking from an innocent traveller, taken in by the fake reviews and description.
The moral here is to double check any hotels before you book. Using a hotel booking website such as Booking.com or Hotels.com is a safer option if you are not sure – they do not list fake hotels on their websites and the guest reviews are vetted.