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'It looked so legit': Ontario man pays $7,700 for luxury villa found on Booking.com, but the listing was fake

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An Ontario man says he paid more than $7,700 for a luxury villa he found on a popular travel website -- but the listing was fake.

“I’m so angry about it and it looked so legit,” said Barry Goode, of Tiny, Ont., near Midland.

Goode was searching for a place in Costa Rica using the website Booking.com when he saw a luxury villa for rent.

“It was at the end of January that we made a quick decision that we would go to Costa Rica for three weeks,” said Goode.

The villa he saw appeared to have good reviews. Goode said, “Booking.com found 61 other reviews and that gave it a 9.8 rating, so that's the first thing, it had a good rating."

When Goode reached out to book the villa the owner said he preferred to communicate using WhatsApp.

“So then we got directed over to WhatsApp and we started to process the payment through WhatsApp,” said Goode.

Goode wired $7,736 to book the vacation spot, but after he did that he couldn't get any more information about the villa and the listing changed.

"The day after I accused them of using fake pictures and a fake listing the pictures changed. The pictures all changed for my booking,” said Goode.

When Goode complained to Booking.com he was told he shouldn't have wired the funds and he was offered $500 in compensation, which he refused to accept.

Travel expert Loren Christie said once you operate outside of a travel website you lose many protections.

"It doesn't matter if it's Booking.com or Airbnb always communicate 100 per cent through the booking platform,” said Christie, adding, “never send the money independently. You should always have the arrangement that it's done through the platform."

After CTV News Toronto contacted Booking.com, Goode received an email from the company that said, “After re-investigating the claim and referring to the information on file, we hereby offer to settle this matter at a full refund of $7,735.86.”

Goode was relieved to get his money back. “This is such a huge relief,” he said.

Booking.com also told CTV News in a statement: “Ensuring that our platform is safe, secure and trustworthy is our top priority. Upon investigation of this customer’s case, we found suspicious activity related to their booking and have worked closely with the affected customer to process a full refund. Online fraud continues to be an issue across many sectors and is not unique to Booking.com, though we remain fully committed to proactively helping our guests, with our customer service team available 24/7.”

“We recommend to carefully check the payment policy details outlined on the property listing page and in the booking confirmation. If a property appears to be asking for payment outside of what’s listed on their confirmation, reach out to our 24/7 customer service.”

“Remember that no legitimate transaction will ever require a customer to provide their credit card details by phone, email, or text message (this includes WhatsApp).”

Scammers often make fake listings by stealing photos from legitimate websites. If you can, always try to pay with a credit card as you'll have more protection if something goes wrong. 

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