THE mother of Olympic medallist Wendy Houvenaghel has spoken about her family’s lucky escape, after becoming victims of an accommodation scam ahead of London 2012 this summer.
Upperlands woman May McLean told the Mail her son Jonathan had arranged for the family to stay in an apartment in Knightsbridge for the week they will spend in the English capital at the beginning of August - only to find out it was an “elaborate scam”.
The family hope Wendy will qualify to compete in the Team Pursuit event at the Olympics, and her mum along with dad Philip and other family members all plan to be there to cheer her on.
But, although they have since re-arranged their stay, May has spoken out about their accommodation ordeal in a bid to warn others who may fall prey to scammers hoping to make money from tourists and sports fans this summer.
The former midwife said her son took charge of the travel arrangments, deciding on an apartment which he booked in June last year.
“My son organised it all,” May said. “He went through what he thought were all the proper channels and I think he was speaking to someone before he booked.
“We were in London earlier this year, around March time and we thought it would be an ideal opportunity to go and look at the apartment ahead of our stay there.
“We emailed the person it was booked through but when we didn’t get a reply after a while we contacted police in London.”
May and her family were then informed by police that it looked like this could be an “elaborate scam”, as the London Metropolitan force said they had arrested around 90 people in connection with this type of offence already.
“I had a bad feeling about it, but I don’t know why,” said May. “Maybe I had heard about something like that before but I wasn’t totally shocked when I found out this had happened.
“We were going to turn up there with two young children and there would have been nothing - nowhere for us to stay.”
May is hopeful her son, who paid a substantial deposit by credit card, will be reimbursed for his loss.
Earlier this year a travel chief warned visitors to London to be on alert for what could be bogus holiday accommodation around the time of the Olympics.
Laurence Hicks, director of a holiday rental company said: “We are hearing a lot of nightmare stories about unsuspecting holidaymakers who have booked rental accommodation, paid their airfare and arrived at the address, only to find that it is occupied by the owner and has never been available for rent.
“This type of scam has been around for a while but is now becoming much more sophisticated.
“Faudsters are producing very stylish ads and websites featuring photos of real, very attractive properties in desirable locations. They even have telephone numbers that you can call for information and verification.
“Remember the maxim - if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”