Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Friday, January 08, 2010

Trust in an internet world when renting holiday properties

I've written before about some of the various scam booking attempts that we receive for our French holiday rental Gite, and in the main I'd like to hope I've got reasonably adept at spotting the ones that don't look "quite right" and fingers crossed we've not had any problems in the 5 years we've been renting the Gite.

You can usually spot the dodgy looking booking enquiries, either by the use of an overseas contact telephone number (such as 00 225 which is the international code for the Ivory Coast), or poor English spelling and grammar in the booking enquiry.

If ever I'm not sure I tend to copy some of the key phrases out of the booking request into google and see if anyone else has reported the same booking enquiry. These scammers don't tend to be original and you'll find exactly the same booking request is used time and time again with only the contact name and disposable email address changing each time. Another sure sign for doubt is email addresses ending in numbers such as or

One website I have found particularly useful when researching dubious bookings such as a 'surprise' honeymoon present is's forum which is a meeting place for other holiday home rental owners.

The other day I received another enquiry I wasn't sure about and when I google'd some of the text from the enquiry I turned up another useful resource for spotting scam bookings, rentalseal's blog where they report details of current rental scams and rental scams in the news.

Rental Seal graphic

But on reading further I found that RentalSeal are more than just a blog, they've a fairly unique Internet business proposition, and to be honest one that I hadn't considered as being an issue up to now.

Their raison d'etre is quite simple, "how do you know the holiday home rental you are just about to book genuinely exists?"

Basically they offer the customer who wants to rent a holiday home (or 'vacation rental' as the American's say) protection against scammers who have duplicated attractive photos of vacation homes from the web and copied content from other legitimate vacation rental property listings in order to create their own fraudulent listings.

And I suppose I see how this could be a problem. It costs practically nothing to create a website and it's easy to copy someone else's website so if you copy a property listing, get it well ranked on the search engines then potentially unsuspecting customers will book to stay in the fraudulent property, pay their money up front, then when they arrive they find that it's all been an elaborate hoax.

RentalSeal's solution to this problem is to offer a "trust seal of authenticity" on your property listing. As the property owner you provide RentalSeal with details of your property and proof that you genuinely do own it such as insurance documents, property deeds or previous guest references, etc. RentalSeal then reviews your application, verifies all information, and issues you with a trust seal that you can display on your property website.

It's an interesting concept and perhaps for the ultra-concerned customer I can see how this might be a good idea, but I'm not personally convinced that its really necessary, or more importantly, value for money.

Firstly there's the cost. This verification doesn't come free of course, RentalSeal ask for $100 to cover the initial registration and then $30 per year as an annual renewal fee.

Secondly there's the question of recognition of RentalSeal itself. If this trust seal idea really took off, customers readily recognised the trust logo and absolutely every property website needed to have a RentalSeal approval if they wanted to have a half-decent chance of getting bookings, then I can see that this would be something I'd have to subscribe to.

But I'm not sure its there yet. Unlike some of the other 'safer shopping' logos such as Thawte, ShopSafe, WeTrust and TrustGuard, and merchant schemes such as Verified by Visa for secure credit card handling; I suspect that pretty much no-one has ever heard of RentalSeal and thus the value of the "seal" is severely diminished.

And finally there's the question of market penetration. After a bit of investigative searching on RentalSeal's property directory I've concluded that they've currently got 63 verified properties on their books, of which only 4 are in Europe (in Italy and Greece). And with such a low number its not going to be an organically growing trust seal any time now.

Returning back to the question of whether fraudulent property listings is really a big issue that needs a trust logo like this, personally we've never had any queries from customers worried that we might be trying to take their money and not have a holiday home for them to rent in return. Of course it may be because we've not got the RentalSeal logo that such concerned customers never lodge a booking enquiry in the first place, but with 80+ bookings over the last 5 years I somehow doubt it. If a potential customer was worried then I've got enough photos of the property, I'm more than happy to talk to customers on the phone, and of course there are all the previous happy customers that could act as referees if it really came to that.

I'll finish with one final thought though. How do I know that RentalSeal itself is to be trusted and isn't a form of even more elaborate internet scam? How do you trust the trustee in a potentially unsafe internet world?

All in all too complicated a problem I think.

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