How to avoid scams when booking
Many people worry about booking self-catering accommodation because you are often dealing with owners directly rather than a company. However most sites are designed so that you have to operate through their systems which offers some protection and companies have clear procedures if things go wrong. You can also do a few simple things to protect yourself:
Legitimate owners will be able to answer any questions you ask them about their accommodation and the surrounding area. Most sites provide a phone number so don't just do this via email but on the phone too.
Once you have the name of the person then look them up on Facebook or on Google. See if their profile looks legit and see if you can link them to the property. Also search the property online and see if any complaints show up or if it is listed under a different name or with different details. Check how long they have been listed on the site and how many reviews they have.
Use Google Maps
Check out where your accommodation actually is by using google maps. Make sure it really is a 5 minute walk from the beach or the nearest shop and not on a main road or whatever is important to you. Use 'street view' mode and you can check out the whole area. It's also really helpful to have a vague idea of what it looks like so you can find it easily on arrival.
Always pay via the site if possible
All the major sites allow you to pay using their payment systems and offer protection from fraudulent bookings. However smaller sites may not be so sophisticated and want you to pay owners directly. If you decide to pay the owner directly be aware that Western Union or other similar money transfer sites as this are untraceable. Bank transfers are traceable but there is still little chance of any comeback if something goes wrong. Trust your instincts if things don't add up ask more questions and investigate further until you feel sure one way or the other!