Police in Spain arrested five people suspected of scamming at least half a million euros out of holidaymakers who handed over payments for fake holiday rentals.
The alleged fraudsters operated websites advertising the upmarket properties for very competitive prices then demanded payment in advance to secure the rentals.
But when the victims turned up at the properties to begin their holidays they discovered that the villas were not in fact for rent and that the owners knew nothing of the arrangements.
"The fraudsters set up a high quality website offering luxury holiday rentals in Marbella at very competitive prices. The properties really existed but their rightful owners were unaware that they were being offered on the website," said the National Police in a statement.
"Potential renters were asked to secure the reservation with a bank transfer and to pay the rest in full four weeks before arrival. But when victims turned up in Marbella to meet the agents to be given the keys, they didn’t appear and their phone and emails went unanswered."
Police said they launched an investigation on July 16th after receiving the first of nine victims raised the alarm.
"One of the victims was cheated of €55,000 for two luxury villas. When they arrived in Marbella, they found the people at the property had no knowledge of the reservation."
Police said all of the nine victims so far were foreigners who were defrauded of a total of €95,000 but they believe there are other victims yet to come forward.
"According to bank transfer records the organization received in excess of €500,000 from other victims who have not yet come forward or who have reported the crime abroad," said the police.
OJO al FRAUDE con FALSOS apartamentos: 5 detenidos por estafar con alquiler de casas de lujo en Marbella, pedir pago de señal y desaparecer— Policía Nacional (@policia) August 6, 2015
The police warned holiday renters to be wary of suspiciously low prices.
"To avoid this type of fraud be suspicious of surprisingly low prices and websites that to do not have positive feedback from other users. Be wary if you find it impossible to contact the advertisers in person and be careful of sending money upfront," advised Spain's National Police.
The police also advised holidaymakers renting private accommodation to keep a copy of all documents related to the rental and to take screenshots of the website in case it is then taken offline.