100 tourists descend home in north London amid Booking.com travel scam

On July 4, a homeowner named Gillian was surprised by unexpected visitors at her home in north London.

“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 suitcases, it seemed to me, who had clearly just come from the airport.

“They said they booked my house with Booking.com.”

The pair were the first of around 100 people to believe they had reserved Gillian’s North London property through the global accommodation booking website.

“I said, ‘No, you haven’t, because it’s not on Booking.com’. I have never rented this house.

She looked stunned and I said, ‘You’ll just have to go back to them. I’m sorry, there’s a misunderstanding.”

Gillian revealed her story to BBC Radio 4 consumer program reporter Shari Vahl you and yours.

“A few hours later, about three or four people came knocking on my door and said they had booked my house with Booking.com,” she said.

“They came from all over the world: Australians who had just arrived, there were some people from Saudi Arabia, some people from the north of England, and I just couldn’t believe it.”

A concerned potential guest even called Booking. com on the morning of the intended stay, but was assured the property was real and the reservation was secure.

Gillian found the listing for her North London address on Booking.com – but the photos were from a completely different property, in Chelsea, and had been illegally copied from a legitimate accommodation site.

“It was clearly a scam and someone had used my address.”

“I felt so sorry for those tourists who knocked on my door. All I could do was send them away.

“I feel very concerned about it. They are very nice people, but maybe one day we will get people at the door who are actually quite aggressive. I feel very vulnerable.”

Despite Gillian reporting the scam the next day, another 80 people who believed they had booked through Booking.com arrived before July 29, including a family from Los Angeles who had paid £1,100 for their stay.

The listing was eventually removed on July 13, and Booking.com said customers caught by the scam would be contacted by customer service.

But on July 29, Jo Duckenfield and her daughter, Olivia, came for a weekend away from their home in Portsmouth. They had booked on July 13 and planned to attend Lady Gaga’s performance at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

“I started looking around for a place to stay [and] found this flat on Booking.com,” Ms Duckenfield told you and yours.

She said she checked the status of the property with Booking.com on the morning of arrival and was assured it would be fine.

Mrs. Duckenfield said, “I will never use them again.”

A Booking.com spokesperson said: “We take safety and security very seriously and every week we facilitate millions of stays, with the vast majority taking place absolutely flawlessly.

“Scam is unfortunately a battle many industries face against unscrupulous fraudsters who want to take advantage and it is something we are tackling directly.

“We have put in place some robust security measures, but in the very rare case there may be a problem with a specific property that we always investigate immediately.

“We can confirm that this property has been completely removed from our site and that all customers will be contacted by a member of our customer service team to apologize and provide all necessary support regarding refunds, relocations and additional charges, as well as of course renewal we apologize to the homeowner.”

The exact nature of the scam is unclear, but potential guests may be asked to transfer money via bank transfer, outside of the Booking.com system.

You can listen to Shari Vahl’s report here. The entry on Booking.com starts eight minutes after the program.

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