Emails intercepted: Claudia Natoli was snared in a global scam involving tourists. Photo: Jacky Ghossein
Claudia Natoli thought she was on to a good thing - so good that when she inquired about a luxury four-bedroom rental villa in Bali, she emailed the owner and asked: ''What's the catch?''
He had offered an attractive discount on the original price and was so obliging, he even helped organise a fully catered pre-wedding party - including drinks, food and waiters - that she planned to host at the property.
The deal was too good to be true. Hackers had intercepted her initial email, posed as the accommodation owner and lured her into making a bogus booking.
Pure luxury: Villa Zara which Claudia Natoli booked via the website www.vrbo.com.
Ms Natoli is among scores of Australian tourists who have been snared in a worldwide travel scam that targets property owners who advertise their rentals on websites including HomeAway, VRBO and FlipKey, which is mostly owned by TripAdvisor. In nearly every case, the victim arrives in paradise only to discover the communication had been faked, the genuine owner has never heard of them and the accommodation is booked out - leaving them broke and stranded.
Last week, NSW Fair Trading confirmed it had received complaints about the scam and encouraged others to come forward and lodge a formal complaint.