Fraudsters conned British holidaymakers out of £2.2 million last year through a series of internet-based scams and deceptions, a report shows today.
Criminal groups have targeted online booking firms in order to swindle cash from unsuspecting customers, many of whom only discover they have been duped when they arrive at their accommodation and find no booking has been made.
Travel association ABTA, police and the Government's Get Safe Online service have joined forces to urge caution for potential fraud victims when booking a holiday over the internet following today's report from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau.
The report reveals during a 12-month period 1,569 cases of holiday booking fraud were reported to the police's Action Fraud team. The most common types relate to fake plane tickets, hacking accounts, posting bogus adverts online, and setting up dodgy websites.
Sports and religious trips are often targeted due to limited availability and consequently higher prices, according to the study. In 2014 the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and World Cup in Brazil were targeted with numerous people having paid for non-existent accommodation or tickets.
Losses aren't just financial, they're emotional
In one case, a family travelled for five hours to enjoy a week-long break in Cornwall at a cost of £1,500, only to find the website had been hacked and the bank details altered, meaning they were unable to use the accommodation or retrieve the money.
In another case, a member of the public lost £62,000 in a fraud relating to a bogus timeshare scheme, while three generations of the same family had an expensive trip to Istanbul ruined when their £2,500 booking was taken by a fake agent.
But losses are not just financial, with a third of victims saying the fraud had a substantial impact on their health as well as their financial wellbeing – 167 victims reported the impact of the crime was so severe they had to receive medical treatment.
Protect yourself when booking holidays online
Use the following top tips to avoid becoming a victim of holiday booking 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. You can verify membership of ABTA on it website.
- Check for ATOL. Check for an Air Travel Organiser's Licence (ATOL) logo – legally, every UK travel company that sells a holiday that includes flights must hold ATOL protection, which protects holidaymakers when a travel company goes bust.
- 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. Instead pay by credit card, or a debit card where that's not an option (see our Section 75 and Chargeback guides).
- Check paperwork. You should study receipts, invoices and terms and conditions, and be very wary of any companies that don't provide any at all.
- Use your instincts. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
What if I'm a victim of a scam?
If you're the victim of a scam, you should report the incident to Action Fraud online (or by calling 0300 123 2040), the UK's national fraud and internet crime reporting centre, and to Trading Standards.
Unfortunately, if you've paid via bank transfer, it's unlikely you'll be able to get your money back.
But if you paid by credit card and spent over £100, you can claim your money back from your card provider via Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.
If you paid by debit card or paid less than £100 on a credit card, there's no law protecting your purchases. But you may be able to reclaim your cash via your card provider's Chargeback scheme.
It's unlikely your travel insurance will cover this type of thing, but you should check the terms and conditions of your individual policy just to be certain.
Additional reporting by the Press Association.