Unsuspecting holidaymakers lost millions of pounds to travel fraudsters last year in travel-related scams, a new report reveals.
The victims lost £1,380 on average in scams involving fake airline tickets, accommodation and tours.
The report from the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), Action Fraud and Get Safe Online found that over 5,000 people reported losing a total of just over £7 million to holiday and travel related fraud last year.
This was up on the previous year when 4,382 victims reported losing £6.7 million.
The report warns that fraud may be even higher, with many victims feeling too embarrassed to report it.
Mark Tanzer, ABTA chief executive says: “ABTA sees at first-hand the damage caused by travel fraudsters after customers find out their much anticipated holiday or trip to visit family and friends does not actually exist.
“The cost to victims is not just financial. This crime causes very real emotional distress."
Mr Tanzer says that fraudsters are using increasingly sophisticated methods to target destinations and times of year when people are looking for good deals.
He adds: “As victims often find out just before they travel or even in resort that they have been defrauded, it can then be very difficult and expensive to obtain a legitimate replacement booking compounding the financial costs and emotional distress suffered by victims.”
Airline ticket fraud
More than half (53%) of the crimes reported were related to the sale of airline tickets.
Reports were made consistently throughout the year with losses of over £425,000 made in August.
In particular, holidaymakers booking flights to Africa and the Indian subcontinent were affected.
Fraudsters may be exploiting lack of knowledge of the strict UK regulations in place governing the sale of airline tickets, the report says.
One way fraudsters trick people is by offering incredible deals on fake websites or social media.
If a victim provides their contact details when making a search for flights on a bogus website the fraudster then offers them a deliberately low quote for their desired flight to tempt them into making payment.
After the victim has paid they receive a confirmation email, but further enquiries with the airline reveal their booking does not exist.
Accommodation scams account for 25% of travel fraud, with a majority of scams reported in October. This suggests that many victims are reporting losses after the end of the summer holidays.
With accommodation scams, fraudsters use fake online adverts, bogus sales calls, emails and text messages offering incredibly cheap deals.
Villas are often advertised below the market rate in order to entice customers who think they have grabbed a bargain.
The scammers are also becoming increasingly sophisticated, often stealing pictures from real sites. They may even have the ABTA approved logo on them.
Although some of these villas are fictitious, many actually exist but are being offered by fraudsters without the legitimate owner’s knowledge. Spain and France are the two destinations most commonly targeted.
Haj trips are particularly attractive to fraudsters as the amounts of money involved are substantial with the average loss totalling almost £10,000 per reported case.
Top tips to avoid travel fraud
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
Do your research - Don’t just rely on one review - do a thorough online search to check 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.
Look for the logo - Check whether the company is a member of a recognised trade body such as ABTA. If you have any doubts, you can verify membership of ABTA online, at www.abta.com.
Pay safe - Wherever possible, pay by credit card and be wary about paying directly into a private individual’s bank account.
Check paperwork - You should study receipts, invoices as well as terms and conditions. Be very wary of any companies that don’t provide any at all. When booking through a Holiday Club or Timeshare, get the contract thoroughly vetted by a solicitor before signing up.
Use your instincts - If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Report it - Victims should contact Action Fraud via www.actionfraud.police.uk.