Spa or nah?
March 11, 2009 8:42 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend and I are going to Puerto Plata (Dominican Republic) for a week, and she wants to book a day at a spa there. The spa wants payment up-front and via Paypal. Is this a scam?

The spa has a real-looking website: Jasmine Spa.

However, it also has solid 5/5 reviews on tripadvisor and doesn't seem to appear on any sites that aren't self-submitting travel sites.

Maybe I'm too skeptical, but I'm suspicious this place may not exist. Is there a way to confirm that this is legit? Even better, have you ever been there?
posted by hayvac to Travel & Transportation around Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic (10 answers total)
I don't know anything about your hotel, but I have had to pay via PayPal in advance for a hotel in Provence and it all worked out.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:53 PM on March 11, 2009

It would be useful to read up on the recourse available to you via Paypal/the credit card used to pay Paypal if it turns out to be a scam. As I understand it, most scammers prefer to use Western Union instead of Paypal because presumably the latter has better anti-fraud mechanisms.

Perhaps you could ask if the spa would accept a deposit instead?
posted by nihraguk at 9:19 PM on March 11, 2009

Best answer: A few pieces of data (just noodling around) - according to the whois record the website has been around since 2006 and is registered through 2010 - registered by the owner listed in the spa's materials at an Ontario address.

The proprietors, Zahir and Anis Kara, seem to be real people - they're on Facebook, they have LinkedIn profiles (it looks like they hail from or live part time in Ontario) - here's an article some Dominican Republic news source that looks a bit home-built but basically legit did, Zahir is listed as a Canadian NGO board member here. Anis is listed as a registered massage therapist in Ontario here.

It does sure look like they finagled themselves a bunch of super Tripadvisor reviews. A lot of Canadians with one-off reviews, which makes me think more friend-peddling than outright astroturfing. But consider this one, for instance - she's reviewed a lot of stuff and it's not all high ratings. And DOMINCAN has balanced his 5 star review of Jasmine with a one star review of the Howard Johnson London (WTF... oh, London ONTARIO), apparently the worst hotel in the world.

In brief I don't see how an outright scam could be that deep and not generate some contrary protest that I'm not seeing. The PayPal thing doesn't surprise me for an owner-operator kind of thing, it's easier to set up than a true credit card processing, is pretty effective for international transactions. As someone who has been on the wrong side of a customer dispute (as an eBay seller, long story short it wasn't my fault and it worked out in the end) I'll say that PayPal's chargeback process is not toothless. While I would take all those 5 star reviews with a big old grain of salt I think you can most likely actually go to this place and have hot river-stones put on your back and stuff.
posted by nanojath at 9:37 PM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

You know, I'll bet that if she just waits until she gets there, she'll still be able to get in a spa day without the scam worry ... And if that spa is not available, she can find another. because it's a tourist destination.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 10:04 PM on March 11, 2009

You can use a credit card through Paypal, and charge the cost back if the spa doesn't exist. Based on the evidence presented here, though, I'd say you have nothing to worry about. Also - I was on holiday in the Caribbean recently (December last year; three islands, though not DR) and noticed that every store was extra careful to check my ID when I used a credit card, which made me think there is probably a lot of credit card fraud there - that might explain the spa's wariness. Use your credit card, though, and you have chargeback protection.
posted by goo at 10:09 PM on March 11, 2009

I live in Vietnam and there are Spas here on practically every street corner. I'd think that the two countries are not unlike in that aspect. I think it's not a scam, but it's probably very easy to get better deals/service when you're there. Just wait till you get there and book it during your visit (sometimes 5 minutes before the treatments start).

The website is just a smart owner trying to hook customers before arrival, before they have a chance to compare prices/quality.
posted by Timen at 3:34 AM on March 12, 2009

Nanojath's explanation is pretty convincing, but if you're still having any doubts at all, call the concierge at the hotel where you'll be staying and ask them about it.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:35 AM on March 12, 2009

seconding what timen says - i haven't travelled to the DR, but all of my other holiday experiences tell me that it's always better to book when you get there. if it's a tourist destination, you wlil definitely be able to find a free slot for whatever touristy activity you want to do, and you will always be able to make a more informed choice regarding better deals, better quality (after having the chance to ask locals for suggestions), etc.
posted by skaye at 7:12 AM on March 12, 2009

They always try and get you to pay up front, because that way you're locked in. The last thing they want is for you to wait until you arrive, because then you'll see for yourself just how many other places you could have gone to. It's not a scam, they're just demonstrating a lack of faith in your patience and ability to be a smart consumer.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:25 PM on March 12, 2009

Response by poster: In case anyone finds this thread while researching the same issue, it did turn out to be a real (and awesome) spa. The reason the tripadvisor account looks astroturfed is because the owner asks everyone to post there once they get home.
posted by hayvac at 6:19 PM on April 18, 2009

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