Holidaymakers should beware fraudulent booking websites, after a 20% increase in reported cases of people being stung by scam travel sites.
According to the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), victims typically lose around £1,200 to such scams with an estimated £7.2 million stolen from unsuspecting holidaymakers in 2016.
Scammers create fake websites, rental listings, and even fake social media pages to trick holidaymakers into reserving accommodation that doesn’t exist. Other scams focus on selling fake airline tickets, particularly to African and Indian sub-continental destinations, in order to rip-off unwitting people visiting friends and family.
Sports and religious trips are particularly susceptible to fraudulent schemes due to the higher costs associated, while timeshares and holiday clubs are also targets, with victims frequently losing tens of thousands of pounds.
As a result, ABTA, the City of London Police, and Get Safe Online have teamed up to issue a joint report warning people to be aware of “sophisticated” holiday booking fraud.
According to the report, those aged between 20 and 39 are more susceptible to the scams, with older holidaymakers apparently warier of a deal that looks too good to be true. The majority of those defrauded are through bank transfers or by cash payments, with many fraudsters claiming these payment methods are the only ones protected by their own phony insurance schemes.
Deputy head of crime reporting agency Action Fraud, Steve Proffitt, says: “Action Fraud has seen a consistent rise in the number of holiday fraud reports made over the past five years. We recommend that people are thorough when researching their travel arrangements and book directly with an airline or hotel, or through a reputable agent. When deciding to deal directly with a property owner or letting agent, ask them questions about the booking, room, location and area.”
Protect yourself when booking a holiday
With a proliferation of online resources for travel booking it can be difficult to identify legitimate and fraudulent booking sites. However, there are some things you can do to ensure the validity of the site:
1. Check the web address: some booking sites can have convincing fraudulent facsimiles appear in search results. It is essential to check whether it should be .com, .org, or .co.uk.
2. Check a company’s credentials: look for online reviews from varying sources. Check if the site has the ABTA logo, or if in doubt, verify the company is a member at www.abta.com.
3. Payment methods: never pay via bank transfer or cash as this is very difficult to trace in the event you fall victim to a fraud. Paying for holiday bookings by credit card or debit card should be protected under either ‘Section 75’ legislation or via voluntary ‘Chargeback’ schemes from card providers.
4. Be wary: if a deal looks too good to be true, it might just be. The travel industry has reported very high booking levels in 2017 so far, with consumers paying a premium for flights and accommodation due to a weaker pound. Fraudsters could look to take advantage of this by offering extraordinarily good rates.
For further help on staying safe online, read 17 ways to protect your money online in 2017.