Load it with enticing images of immaculately furnished interiors and stunning views, with a supporting cast of glowing testimonials, and top it off with irresistible knock-down prices that no one can resist.
Then sit back and watch the money roll in, as thousands of eager holiday makers and bargain hunters pay you hundreds of thousands of dollars in deposits for a once-in-a-lifetime chance for a villa vacation of their dreams.
If it sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is. Of course, the villas don’t exist. Or if they do, they’re either not for rent or are not being rented by the charming individual who placed the ads.
Scams like these are popping up all over the world, scamming thousands of victims out of millions of dollars. And the scam works because it is breathtakingly easy. You don’t need to be a hacker, or code maker, or know how to play the international financial system. You just need to pay someone a few hundred dollars to modify a web site that you can buy entirely online for less than $50.
And once built, you can claim anything you want. You can post any photos, offer to rent any villas or apartments, provide hundreds of testimonials of satisfied customers (even include their smiling vacation snapshots), and add a bunch of genuine logos that prove you’re licensed, bonded, insured, a trusted local business, and a member of every required association and trade group.
You can even answer the phone (using Skype for example) and speak directly to your victims, using your charm to convince them that you and the deal are both very, very real.
You’ll get paid anonymously, by PayPal, Western Union, directly into a temporary bank account, or even process your own credit cards. And you’ll be long gone by the time the victims arrive at their destination only to find that the villa is not available or for rent. Or that the destination itself doesn’t exist.
It does happen, and it preys on a fundamental flaw in consumer behavior. If you do everything possible to make your offer, business, and web site look legitimate, consumers in search of a bargain will likely trust you. Even if they’ve never met you, heard of you, verified you, or seen what they’re paying for first.
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