December 16th 2013
Skiers planning to book accommodation online have been warned to watch out for an internet scam which comes around at about this time every year, yet continues to catch out innocent victims.
Fraudsters posing as the owners of luxury chalets, are advertising stays which do not exist, on websites which are often legitimate but often fake. They are conning people out of thousands of pounds by taking payments by direct transfer into bank accounts rather than the more conventional (and normally safer) payment card.
ABTA is planning an awareness campaign in the new year, claiming that it is a "growing problem".
And chalet operator Consensio Holidays told the BBC that it has asked for dozens of fraudulent chalet listings to be taken down from rentals websites. Managing Director Ceri Tinley said: "Fraudsters extrapolate pictures and words from internet listings for our chalets and try to pass them off as their own. Often they will embed their email addresses inside the photos, encouraging people to contact them directly in order to make a booking, before transferring money into their bank accounts." She continued: "The clearest sign of a fraudulent listing is the cost – some scammers charge only 10% of the chalet's actual market price."
The consequences to the holidaymaker are turning up at a ski chalet that does not exist, or arriving at the same time as a party who has booked the chalet via a legitimate advertisement.
A recent example quoted by the BBC is of a group of friends who transferred £13,000 to someone who had posted a listing for a chalet in Val d'Isere on a holiday rentals website, having been offered a "five percent discount". The advertisement appeared on a reputable website which one of the party had used for more than ten years.
Other instances include fraudsters setting up bogus websites which are virtually identical to authentic ones, changing some of the property names and setting up outward links to unauthorised listings. Because they look so authentic, such sites provide easy pickings for scammers.
ABTA's Sean Tipton told the BBC that there are some simple measures people could take when booking ski holidays online. "Ensure the company's a member of a trade association such as ABTA or ATOL and when you pay them, don't pay by bank transfer, go to a company that accepts a credit card or a Visa debit card, because if something does go wrong – if it turns out there's a problem with accommodation – you'll be able to get your money back through the credit card company or bank if it's a Visa debit card."