In 2016, 5,826 people reported holiday booking fraud – a 19 per cent 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 per cent) 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,’ says deputy head of Action Fraud (@actionfrauduk
) Steve Proffitt in the report.
The growth of the digital economy, allowing people to book everything online, has made it easy for fraudsters to exploit everything from airline tickets to online accommodation.
We asked 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 it doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, this type of fraud is becoming common in the UK, especially as people purchase more 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, with fraudsters 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 you're being targeted by a fraudster?
Fraudsters are becoming increasingly adept at creating sites that mislead people into thinking they're getting the real deal. However, alarm bells should ring if:
- You’re contacted by a company you’ve not heard of offering you 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 travel arrangements and book directly with an airline or hotel, or through a reputable agent,’ says Steve Proffitt.
Here are five ways you can check them out:
- 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
Whoever you book with, where applicable, check they're a member of a reputable organisation like the International Air Transport Association (IATA)
, and hold an ATOL
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 give some protection.
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're the victim of holiday booking fraud?
If you believe you’ve been a victim of fraud, or been contacted by a fraudster, 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 holidaymakers should be 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 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 they're involved in holiday sickness fraud.
Also, always call your emergency assistance provider if you need to go into a medical facility for treatment.
If you're 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.