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£7 million lost to holiday fraud, says new report

May 7th 2018

Fraudsters stole over seven million pounds from unsuspecting holidaymakers and other travellers in 2018, a new report reveals today, with airline tickets and accommodation being the main targets.

ABTA, Action Fraud and Get Safe Online are joining forces to warn the public about the dangers posed by holiday booking fraud and give advice on how to spot and avoid travel related fraud. The report compiled by Action Fraud and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau details the most commonly targeted areas of travel and the methods used by unscrupulous criminals to defraud the travelling public.

Over 5,000 people reported to Action Fraud that they had lost a total of just over £7 million to holiday and travel related fraud, an increase on last year, when 4,382 victims reported losing £6.7 miliion. The average amount lost was £1,380 per person but, as in previous years, in addition to the financial cost, victims have also reported the significant emotional impact caused by this crime. The three campaign partners also believe that the actual total figures relating to travel fraud may be even higher, with many victims feeling too embarassed to report.

Over half, 53%, of the crimes reported were related to the sale of airline tickets. These reports were made consistently throughout the year, however the largest individual loss, of over £425,000, was made in August 2018.

The next most common fraud at 25%, related to the sale of accommodation, with a peak in reported losses in October. This indicates that many victims report their loss after the end of the summer holidays - the busiest time of the year for travel and a popular one for fraudsters.

Tony Neate, Chief Executive of Get Safe Online, said: “Although it can seem alarming that reported holiday booking fraud is rising, it shouldn’t be a reason to stop you from booking your holiday online. Instead, we urge people to take some time before booking a holiday to read through our safety tips and familiarise themselves with the small changes they can make to ensure they don’t get caught out by cybercriminals. Customer reviews are invaluable but don’t rely on just one review,research thoroughly. Look out for companies that are members of professional bodies such as ABTA and be wary of paying a private individual by bank transfer, even if you are offered a discounted rate. Paying by credit card will offer you much more protection from fraud. Finally, trust your insticts, don’t get rushed into making impusive decisions if something doesn’t feel quite right.”

Mark Tanzer, ABTA Chief Executive said: “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. This is why ABTA, Action Fraud and Get Safe Online work together to make people aware of the steps they can take to avoid falling foul of a holiday scam.

“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 defruded, it can then be very difficult and expensive to obtain a legitimate replacement booking compounding the financial costs and emotional distress suffered by victims.”

Types of holiday booking fraud

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

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 – Hajj 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 becoming a travel fraud victim

Action Fraud, ABTA and Get Safe Online have published advice on how to avoid becoming a victim of holiday booking fraud – and on how victims should go about reporting it. This advice includes the top tips below:

-  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 rely on just 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

-  Get free expert advice: For further advice on how to stay safe when booking or researching travel online, go to https://www.getsafeonline.org/shopping-banking/holiday-and-travel-booking/