Val Furneau, 77, booked the house for three nights through the online travel agency Booking.com, but before her holiday she received a message from the alleged owner of the property asking her to pay the entire balance. The pensioner had planned to stay at the property in Birkenhead, Merseyside, to see her newborn great-grandson.
But her plans were ruined when the owner wrote a notice saying they could no longer stay at the property because the patio door had been smashed in with golf balls. Val and her companions, who included a four-year-old child, were told to go to a nearby holiday hotel.
Val told the Liverpool ECHO: “I got a WhatsApp message saying I have to pay immediately as we are only a few days away from our arrival. I spoke to the lady on the phone and paid via online banking.
“She told us that she had booked us a family room at the Holiday Inn for one night before we could go to the other property the next day, but when we got there there was no reservation. And within 15 minutes of being in the car park we ended up with a £100 parking ticket. It was a weekend on a national scale, so there was practically no accommodation anywhere. We managed to get two double rooms at Castle Lisauve and the lady said if I gave her my account details she would put the money in my account for me, but she didn’t.’
Things went from bad to worse the next morning when the family received another message from the alleged owner saying that the alternative property she had arranged for them was also unavailable, forcing Val to foot the bill for two more nights at the castle Lisa and brought her total cost of living up to £1,688.
After returning from the trip, Val contacted the owner, who “apologized” and promised to return the money. Val also began receiving emails claiming to be from Booking.com, promising compensation and abandoning the 77-year-old’s confidence that they would get their money back.
When no such compensation was forthcoming, Val, from the Isle of Wight, took to social media, where she discovered she was not the only victim of the same scammer.
She said: “By chance I went on Facebook last week and saw someone had also been caught, which led me to other people and confirmed it was a scam. I contacted my bank, who said that the emails purporting to be from Booking.com were probably from scammers. I don’t have the address of the woman I was in contact with, but apparently the property belongs to her father.
“When someone went to visit the house, he said there were five other people who also wanted to stay at the property. He also said the woman may have stolen her sister’s identity.’
Val contacted Booking.com, but because she had not paid directly to the travel site, the company advised her to go through her bank. The incident is also currently being investigated by Action Fraud.
Val told the ECHO that the situation forced her to turn to beta-blockers to cope with the stress. She said: “I just got so stressed out about it all that I had to go on beta blockers which also caused me problems. It ruined a wonderful trip to see my great grandson.
“It actually completely ruined the trip because the first day we were just wandering around trying to find somewhere to stay. It’s just horrible what she did, not only to me, but to other people as well.”
Booking.com told the ECHO: “We take any complaint seriously and investigate the issues raised. We are currently in contact with the customer regarding this booking.”