Fraudsters stole more than £7 million from holidaymakers in 2018.

Action Fraud’s figures show more than 5,000 tourists were conned into paying for fake flights, non-existent villas and other scams. Figures released by Action Fraud show the average amount lost due to holiday fraud in 2018 was £1,380.

Travel trade organisation Abta’s chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “The cost to victims is not just financial. This crime causes very real emotional distress. Fraudsters are using increasingly sophisticated methods to target destinations and times of year when demand is high and availability limited, as they know people will be looking for good deals. 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.”

More than half the cases relate to dodgy plane tickets, with fraudsters particularly targeting people heading from Britain to Africa or South Asia to visit family and friends. A quarter of fraud cases involve accommodation, such as payments to stay in villas which either did not exist, or were being offered without the owner’s knowledge. Spain and France are among countries where scams of that style have been reported.

In 2018, over 5,000 cases of holiday and travel booking fraud were reported to Action Fraud. The most common frauds were:

Airline Tickets: As well as flights relating to holidays, fraudsters particularly target the visiting friends and family market with flights to Africa and the Indian subcontinent dominating the list of affected destinations. The campaign partners believe that fraudsters may be exploiting lack of knowledge of the strict UK regulations in place governing the sale of airline tickets.

Accommodation Fraud – Fraudsters are using increasingly sophisticated methods, with very professional and convincing websites offering upmarket villas for rent. 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.

Religious trips – 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.

Consumer organisation Which? has the following tips for how to avoid scams when booking a holiday.

  • If the price for your flight or holiday is considerably cheaper than the average cost elsewhere, you should be suspicious. Charging significantly less is often a sign that there may be a scammer behind the offer.
  • Looking out for official logos is a good way to check the authenticity of holiday booking, travel agent and tour operators.
  • Popular holiday booking websites such as Airbnb and Holiday Lettings are a great place to find accommodation at a reasonable price, but watch out for fake listings – scammers have figured out that they can use the popularity of these sites to dupe people and make some quick cash.
  • If a bank transfer is your only option for payment, this should set alarm bells ringing. You should be especially cautious if you’re asked to pay directly into a private individual’s bank account. Paying by direct bank transfer means your money will be very difficult to trace should something go wrong and is not refundable.
  • Do a thorough search to check the company’s credentials. If a company is defrauding people, there’s a good chance you will find out pretty quickly by reading several reviews.
  • Getting something for free is incredibly rare and so if you’re being offered a free holiday, you should be on your guard. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Be careful of secondary ticketing sites. Scammers know which events are popular and which have limited tickets, so will try and take advantage of people willing to pay high prices.
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