- The tell-tale signs that a holiday company isn't what it seems
- Why you should do your research before booking online
- What to do if you’re the victim of holiday booking fraud
In 2016, 5,826 people reported holiday booking fraud – a 19% increase on 2015, according to Action Fraud's latest figures.
The victims lost roughly £1,200 each, and £7.2 million was lost in total, with over a quarter (26%) saying that the fraud ‘had a significant impact on their health or financial wellbeing’.
‘Action Fraud has seen a consistent rise in the number of holiday fraud reports made over the past five years,’ observes deputy head of Action Fraud (@actionfrauduk) Steve Proffitt in the report.
The growth of the digital economy, allowing people to book everything online, has opened new avenues for fraudsters to exploit, with airline tickets, online accommodation and timeshares among the most targeted.
We talked to LV= Travel and Pet Product Manager Julie Constable for her advice on avoiding holiday booking fraud.
1. Where are you most at risk from holiday booking fraud?
Holiday booking fraud is when someone believes that they have paid for a genuine holiday or aspect of their holiday, but later finds out that it doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, this type of fraud is becoming more common in the UK market, especially as more people purchase elements of their trip online.
Online, communication is conducted over email and/or instant messaging, allowing fraudsters to hide their real identity. However, the internet can also help you avoid being caught out, as you can thoroughly research any company you book with.
Fraudulent flights to Africa and India caught people out in 2016 – often targeting people going on long, more expensive, flights to see family. Also, the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) recorded a number of scams involving sporting events.
2. What are the early tell-tale signs that you are being targeted by a fraudster?
Fraudsters are becoming increasingly adept at creating sites that mislead people into thinking they are paying for something genuine. However, alarm bells should ring if:
- You’re contacted by a company you’ve not heard of that is offering a good deal
- You’re asked to pay by bank transfer or cash, rather than using your credit or debit card
- There are no independent reviews of the destination
3. What are the best steps to take to avoid holiday booking fraud?
Be ‘thorough when researching [your] travel arrangements and book directly with an airline or hotel, or through a reputable agent,’ recommends Steve Proffitt. Here’s five of the ways you can research the company.
- Look out for customer reviews and research their registered address – does it actually exist?
- Google the company name and search for articles online about the company being involved in this type of fraud
- Check the web address has not been altered slightly from a that of a reputable company’s
- Book flights and hotels directly, but first look them up on Google Maps, and call to check there’s someone at the other end of the phone
- If you’re booking directly with a property owner or letting agent, ask them questions about the booking, such as the type of accommodation, what the location is like, where the nearest restaurants and shops are, and verify them on Google Maps
Watch out, though – if the company is prepared to defraud consumers, they won't hesitate to fraudulently use a trade association name and logo on their website, or provide a false registration number, which makes the website look more official.
Pay using your credit or debit card, as your provider may offer you protection against fraud – it’s worth checking that they do. If the amount is over £100, Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act should then provide some protection for the costs at least.
It’s often safest to book with a UK-registered company. Different countries have different regulations but, generally, the UK requirements to protect customers are high.
4. What can you do if you are the victim of holiday booking fraud?
If you believe you’ve been a victim of fraud, or contacted by a fraudster, the first thing you should do is visit Action Fraud.
Report the fraud to warn other holidaymakers – you could even write reviews online to prevent more people becoming victims.
5. Are there any other types of fraud that holidaymakers should be especially aware of?
While on holiday it’s important to remain vigilant – it’s easy to inadvertently become involved in a fraudulent scam if you’re not careful.
Earlier this year, ABTA called on holidaymakers to help them crack down on holiday sickness fraud. Claims management companies are offering people on holiday a financial incentive to say that they became ill after eating at a restaurant or hotel. These companies are then making money when the restaurant or hotel’s insurance pays out.
Don’t give your insurance details over to anyone else if you suspect that they are involved in holiday sickness fraud.
Also, always call your emergency assistance provider if you need to go into a medical facility for treatment to make sure that the treatment is necessary and genuine.
If you are genuinely ill and have had to cancel your trip, you may be able to claim on your travel insurance.
Holiday booking fraud can have a real financial and emotional impact, especially if you thought you’d booked the holiday of your dreams. But by researching every company you book with, and making sure they’re legitimate, you can have a holiday to remember - for all the right reasons.