Holidaymakers were tricked out of an estimated £7 million by fraudsters in 2013, according to the police and travel association ABTA.
During the year, more than 4,500 cases of holiday booking fraud were reported. A third (30%) of them stemmed from fraudulent adverts for holiday villas and apartments. In the worst cases, some travellers arrived at their destination to discover they had nowhere to stay.
Dodgy airline tickets were to blame for ruining the plans of a further 21% of holidaymakers who reported their experience to police. Either they booked flights and received fake tickets or paid for a legitimate ticket that never arrived.
The average loss resulting from this type of holiday fraud was more than £1,000 per victim, said the policy, with flights to West Africa a particular target.
Package holidays cons, particularly concerning group, sports and religious packages, accounted for the third most prevalent type of holiday fraud in 2013 – at 17% of all cases reported.
The Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia and the Ryder Cup were noted as being particular targets for fraudsters. The police are waring that this year packages for the Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games in Scotland, and travel to the World Cup in Brazil, may prove to be targets.
Detective Superintendent O'Doherty, Director of NFIB, said: "The internet has changed the way we look for and book our holidays. Unfortunately it is also enabling fraudsters, using online offers of villas, hotels and flights that simply don't exist or promising bookings that are never made, to prey upon those looking for that perfect break.
"We would urge those who have fallen foul of fraudsters to come forward by contacting Action Fraud to report their loss. By reporting it, victims are helping the NFIB to identify and effectively target those most responsible for this damaging and distressing crime."
Last year, research by ABTA found that one in ten consumers (9%) do nothing to research their travel company, such as checking if it is a member of a trade association, asking for recommendations, or searching for information about the company online.
Here's some advice from ABTA and the police about how to book your holiday safely.
- Do your research: Don't just rely on one review, do a thorough online search to ensure the company's credentials. If a company is defrauding people there is a good chance that consumers will post details of their experiences, and warnings about the company, online
- Look for the logo: Check whether the company is a member of a recognised trade body such as ABTA. You can verify membership of ABTA online
- Stay safe online: Check the web address is legitimate and has not been altered by slight changes to a domain name – such as going from .co.uk to .org
- Pay safe: Never pay directly into an owner's bank account. Paying by direct bank transfer is like paying by cash – the money cannot be traced and is not refundable. Where possible, pay by credit card, (or a debit card that offers protection)
- Check paperwork: You should study receipts, invoices and terms and conditions, and beware of any companies that don't provide any at all
- Use your instincts: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is
- Report it – victims should contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or via actionfraud.police.uk.