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  • Writer's pictureJameson Farn

Two Sides To France Luxury Rental Scams

Every year and especially during the high season in France we encounter, practically on a daily basis, individuals that want to take short cuts and become a part of the luxury market in the region. A large amount of it is in the villa rental industry in which we will be focusing on here, but it also happens with the basics with such things as tickets to events and is followed by lots of false promises. We have long considered these people “middle men”, and from a business owner’s point of view these are individuals offering various levels of fraud that can take place in the South of France (although it is also a worldwide issue). And with many people wanting to live a luxury lifestyle in this part of the country, these practices seem to be on the rise at the moment. People that are motivated like this can be recognized in many ways. For us it’s usually by being approached in a social setting at an event, also by email or in many cases through people you might mutually know through a few degrees of separation thinking we are a possible connection for them. We will get approached with claims that they have a “very private and rich client” that requires a villa while usually also stating “there is no budget” followed shortly by ”I can’t give you his name, email or phone number…” and the person will usually then also state they need to view properties quickly on behalf of the private client, etc.

We can see people like this coming from a long distance and they are usually also information seekers looking for a rapid, large payout (if they even have a client) but they also never seem able to close a deal but sure can talk like they can and put on the front of a luxurious lifestyle deal maker and if they can’t get from you, whatever information they acquire they will try and use with someone else. One way a real client will connect with you is directly or perhaps through their own business and staff, not maliciously and can back up who they are with what they say and do. If you are new to the region and quite enamored by your surroundings you might fall for this version of a scam but it will just be a run around and nothing will come of it and hopefully you weren’t taken for any money and/or loss of reputation. We have sadly seen some good people taken on this type of journey. This is just one level of what companies such as ours have to encounter on a daily basis, you become very aware of who you are dealing with quickly and what steps you have to take. The only fortunate thing is a good 90% of these individuals do not stick around the region long as being in a business community with a good network; word gets out fast about them. For yourself, as a visitor either on vacation or business to France (or anywhere), one of the best things you can do is do as much research as possible before booking anything for your arrival. Ask a lot of questions and verify who you are planning your trip and because of fraudulent instances taking place in the travel industry, anywhere you travel too in the world, ALWAYS protect yourself with full travel insurance and it doesn’t hurt to have even a small backup plan. For us, we are not only protected with business insurance, but so are our private villa owners and professional, verified, long-term businesses and agencies with who we have legally partnered. We confirm all of this also for ourselves before partnering with another business as having a top reputation is key and our clients come first. Companies you are doing business with for your travel plans should also have insurance so that their clients are protected and guaranteed, a registered business number along with Terms and Conditions readily available. And when it comes to the world of social media, in the past few years we have noticed an increase, especially when summer is approaching, of people arriving to the South of France from all over the world who somehow acquire a small, average home or even an apartment, usually through friends and then try to market these places as a ‘villa’ or ‘penthouse’ online followed by keywords such as ‘luxury’ with empty promises they can also get you to the best parties to network with ‘wealthy’ people. One easy way to take notice of these so called companies online is usually by when they started their business, is it stated anywhere? Also on various social media platforms a date tends to be noted when an account was set up which is also a good clue to perhaps how long they have been around. Check if they have a website on their network that you can refer too, although that doesn’t necessarily mean anything, a strong, secure website should be continually updated and not just a simple free template without pertinent information. Ask yourself, is their Facebook page an actual business page (beware of personal pages) including a website, business address, and phone number listed? Another red flag to look out for is their social media network numbers. Does their business network such as Instagram or Twitter account have a low number of postings but thousands of followers? How often do they promote their business online? Do they post only once a week or two weeks? Followers can be bought and there are ways to verify those numbers online to find out what percentage of followers are not real. Are the photos they have used to promote a business their own from the actual location within the proper time period or are they stolen or shared? As an example, we see a lot of new accounts on Instagram that will have 20 posts that are obviously not their own images but 5000 to 10,000 followers which is very unusual. Businesses that are legit tend to consistently update their social media accounts to not only promote but personally communicate with their followers. Their number of followers will grow organically which you can get a good sense of when you base it on when a business started and what kind of growth they have had. More so these days a business is looking to have a strong quality of followers rather than tens of thousands where their message can get lost in the mix. In terms of payments when acquiring say a villa rental, do not send cash or provide credit card numbers immediately. One of the things you should be able to do is easily contact the individual you are doing business with and be given a legal written contract. For villas, no matter how enticing a place may look in photos or even by the way it sounds, please do not let an individual or business tell you that others are interested so you must book immediately with them so you need to hand over funds quickly.

A deposit is always required but it shouldn’t be an exorbitant amount and everything should be well explained to you both by a voice/personal connection and immediate written contract correspondence by a legal business account before you send any monies. It will be a process and although properties do book out when it is busy in the summer, you should be taken care of in a professional business manner and keep in mind, if a place falls through, a strong, reputable business will usually have another similar option available even if they have to go to a competitor. From our experience, if we have to go to someone in a competing business field, it is a chance to forge a new working agreement and expansion and to be a part of a shared economy for the benefit of those wanting to experience the French Riviera. These are just a few things to be aware of for your own well-being in your travels. Overall France and the French Riviera is a beautiful, inspiring place to be. We have been everywhere in all parts of the country both day and night and have never felt unsafe. As with any place you go to in the world, for your own protection, take your travel requirements seriously so that you have the best trip ever.

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