Fraudsters continue to con travellers out of millions a year
ABTA, The City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) and Get Safe Online have re-joined forces to warn the general public about the dangers posed by holiday booking fraud. Fraudsters are making full use of the internet to con would-be holidaymakers by setting up fake websites, hacking into legitimate accounts and posting fake adverts using social media.
Findings from a new report compiled by the NFIB reveal the scale of the crime and expose common tactics used by fraudsters who stole an estimated £2.2million from unsuspecting holidaymakers and other travellers in 2014. Due to the nature of the crime losses to the individual can be substantial with the average loss being £889. In one single case a member of the public lost £62,000 . Losses are not just financial with a third of victims saying that the fraud had a substantial impact on their health as well as their financial well-being. 167 victims reported that the impact of the crime was so severe they had to receive medical treatment.
There are spikes of reported fraud in the summer months and in December which paints a very clear picture of disappointed holidaymakers and dashed trips to visit loved ones for Christmas. The age group most commonly targeted are those aged 30-49, many of whom will be families. The majority of those who had been defrauded paid by methods such as bank transfer or cash with no means of getting their money back. Only a small proportion paid by credit or debit card where some form of redress is available to get your money back.
The 2014 report reveals that during a 12 month period 1,569 cases of holiday booking fraud were reported. The most common types relate to:
- Holiday accommodation – according to the report fraudsters hacked into the accounts of owners on well-known accommodation sites such as airbnb.com and Homeaway.com or spoofed these websites with convincing bogus imitations. UK caravan stays were also targeted with adverts for non-existent accommodation posted on Facebook, Gumtree and Craigslist. In these cases legitimate websites are also the victims of the fraudsters with potential damage caused to their reputations.
- 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. Flights to West Africa are a particular target.
- Sports and religious trips– Often an attractive target due to limited availability and consequent higher prices. In 2014 the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and World Cup in Brazil were targeted with numerous people having paid for non –existent accommodation or tickets. Religious trips to the Hajj in Saudia Arabia were once again targeted with high losses for pilgrims.
- Holiday clubs – Victims were offered “free” holidays to entice them into attending a seminar where they were duped into buying a fraudulent timeshare.
ABTA, the NFIB 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, including 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. You can verify membership of ABTA online, at www.abta.com
- Pay safe: Never pay directly into an owner's bank account. Paying by direct bank transfer is like paying by cash – the money cannot be traced and is not refundable. Where possible, pay by credit card, (or a debit card that offers protection).
- Check paperwork: You should study receipts, invoices and terms and conditions, and be very wary of any companies that don’t provide any at all.
- Use your instincts: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Report it – victims should contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or via www.actionfraud.police.uk