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Record losses reported by holiday fraud victims

April 7th 2018

£6.7 million was reported as lost to holiday booking fraud in the UK last year, with airline tickets and online accommodation main targets  

For information and advice on safe holiday and travel booking, click here

Fraudsters stole £6.7 million from 4,700 unsuspecting holidaymakers and other travellers in 2017, a new report reveals today.

We have joined forces with ABTA and the City of London Police to warn the public about the dangers posed by holiday booking fraud. The new report, compiled by the City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, reveals the scale of reported crime, and exposes common tactics used by fraudsters.

The average amount lost per person was over £1,500, an increase of 25% year on year. These individual losses are substantial, but this form of fraud also has other severe effects with almost half (2,245) of victims saying that it also had had a significant impact on their health or financial well-being. Most worryingly of all, 575 people said the impact on them was so severe that they had to receive medical treatment or were at risk of bankruptcy.

The most common types of fraud relate to the sale of airline tickets (47%) and accommodation booking (38%).

4,700 people told Action Fraud that they had been the victim of a travel related fraud in 2017 though the three campaign partners believe that the actual figure is much higher, with many victims not realising that they should always report the fraud to the police.

In common with previous years, the numbers of people reporting travel fraud to the police jumps in the summer and in December. This is a very clear indication that fraudsters are targeting the peak holiday periods and the people heading home to visit friends and family. They do this because they know demand will be high and availability low, so good value bookings will be harder to find with customers on the lookout for reasonable prices.   

The visiting friends and family market is particularly attractive to fraudsters offering fake flight tickets and package arrangements. Fraudsters may also be targeting individuals travelling home to visit family in time for public or religious holidays. Where destinations were reported by victims, 54% said they had been intending to travel to Africa and 24% to Asia. This suggests that fraudsters may also be exploiting lack of knowledge of the strict regulations in place for the legitimate UK based travel industry.

 Mark Tanzer, ABTA Chief Executive, said: “ABTA sees at first-hand the damage caused by travel fraudsters with the many devastated customers who contact us for advice after they find out there much anticipated holiday or trip to visit loved ones may not actually exist. The cost to them is not just financial; this crime causes very real disappointment and emotional distress. However this does not need to happen. Check and follow the tips and advice on abta.com and you will not fall victim to these unscrupulous individuals. But if you are unlucky enough to do so, always report it to Action Fraud so that they can put these crooks out of business.”

Head of Action Fraud, Pauline Smith, said: “Holidays are the perfect chance to relax and unwind, however as this year’s statistics show, they are also an opportunity for fraudsters to trick you out of your hard-earned money. The startling emotional impact of falling victim to holiday fraud is highlighted in the latest figures, as 575 people reported that the harm to them was so severe, they had to receive medical treatment or were at risk of bankruptcy. This is why we are raising awareness so that people feel better able to protect themselves from being a victim of fraud. We know that fraudsters are increasingly using more sophisticated ways to trick their victims, which is why it is important that you do your research when making travel arrangements. If you think you have been a victim of fraud, contact Action Fraud.”

Tony Neate, CEO of Get Safe Online, said: “Holidays and trips abroad are one of the biggest purchases we’ll make each year so keep an eye out for tell-tale signs something isn’t quite as it seems. It can be quite tempting to get lured in by the offer of a cut price flight or a deal on accommodation when you are caught up in the excitement of booking a holiday.  Small steps can stop you getting caught out by a holiday scam though such as researching the company you are booking through, especially ones that aren’t mainstream operators. Check well known review sites too so you can see what previous customers’ experiences have been and, where possible, pay by credit card to get extra protection in case anything does go wrong.”

Types of holiday booking fraud

In 2017, 4,700 cases of holiday booking fraud were reported to Action Fraud. The most common types of fraud related to:

   - Holiday accommodation - Fraudsters are making full use of the internet to con holidaymakers by setting up fake websites, hacking into legitimate accounts and posting fake adverts on websites and social media. 

   - Airline tickets – where a customer believes they are booking a flight and receives a fake ticket or pays for a ticket that never turns up. In 2017, flights to Africa and the Indian sub-continent were particularly targeted.

   - Sports and religious trips – a popular target for fraud due to limited availability of tickets and consequently higher prices.

   - Caravanning – Action fraud reported a number of consumers reporting being the victim of fraud relating to caravan and mobile home holidays.

Top tips to avoid becoming a travel fraud victim

Together with ABTA and the City of London Police, we 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 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. 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 bank account.

   - Check documentation: You should study terms and conditions and 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/

For a full list of tips to avoid becoming a victim of fraud please see:  http://abta.com/fraud.