New report suggests fraudsters con unwary travellers out of millions a year, with accommodation, group tours and airline bookings most vulnerable
The Travel Association is today launching a new campaign with the support of Get Safe Online, Action Fraud and the City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) to warn the general public about the dangers posed by holiday booking fraud. As part of the campaign research undertaken by the NFIB for the first time measures the scale of the crime and exposes common tactics used by fraudsters. The organisations have also published advice on how to avoid becoming a victim of holiday booking fraud: www.abta.com/holidayfraud
What is holiday booking fraud?
Holiday booking fraud is when consumers hand over money only to discover the holiday, accommodation or flight they paid for doesn’t exist, or the booking hasn’t been made. Fraudsters are conning unsuspecting holidaymakers and travellers out of thousands of pounds each year or leaving them stranded with nowhere to stay through fake websites, false advertising, bogus phone calls and email scams.
Types of holiday fraud
New research by the NFIB shows close to 1,000 cases of holiday fraud reported in 2012 costing consumers approximately £1.5M. As this is the first time the NFIB has started to quantify holiday booking fraud it estimates that these figures may represent just the tip of the iceberg.
The most common types of holiday booking fraud are:
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. This is the most common type of booking fraud, accounting for 45% of holiday booking fraud reported to the Police in 2012.
Holiday accommodation – a third (33%) of holiday fraud victims in 2012 were scammed by the fraudulent advertisement of holiday villas and apartments, with some arriving at their destination to discover they had nowhere to stay. A high percentage of cases were reported in Spain and in London during the Olympics. The rise of self-catering villa rental sites where owners advertise directly to the consumer has made this a common target for fraudsters. A YouGov poll for ABTA* shows that one in five (19%) adults say they have paid directly for private accommodation into the owner’s bank account, rising to a third (33%) of those with three or more children.
Package holiday fraud – fraudsters like to target those booking group, sports and religious packages with deals and special offers. Major events in long-haul destinations are a particular target for fraudsters, such as the pilgrimage to the Hajj and major sporting events such as The Ashes. This is because these sorts of events are often expensive due to high demand so deals can be attractive and many travellers are booking on behalf of a group, meaning that the value of the booking is high.
Visa applications – particularly the ESTA visa requirement for the US, also appear to be an emerging target for fraudsters.
Who is at risk?
Anyone booking a holiday is at risk. The report found males are slightly more likely to have reported a case of holiday fraud than females and those aged 30-49 were also more likely to have been a victim of holiday fraud. Fraud applies to both overseas and UK bookings.
Certain behaviours can increase risk, particularly when booking online, such as not researching the holiday company properly. According to the YouGov poll for ABTA one in ten consumers (9%) does nothing to research their travel company, such as checking if it is a member of a trade association such as ABTA (which has a code of conduct in place to protect consumers), not asking friends and family for recommendations, nor running a web search. In addition, a quarter of holidaymakers (27%) are prepared to pay £200 or more as an upfront payment or deposit to secure their holiday booking, with 7% willing to put down £500 or more.
Mark Tanzer, CEO ABTA said: “Unfortunately, travel arrangements booked online can attract criminals because of the large sums of money involved and because they can hide behind a fake website or email. It’s particularly distressing for people when they might save up for months or even years for their holiday, or to visit family overseas, only to discover the flight or hotel doesn’t exist, or the booking has never been made. Many are left devastated as they cannot afford another holiday. You should always verify that your travel company is a Member of a trade association such as ABTA, research the company thoroughly and never pay into an individual’s bank account by direct bank transfer.”
Deputy Director of the NFIB, DCI Pete O’Doherty said: “The internet has revolutionised the way we look for and book our holidays. Unfortunately it is also enabling fraudsters to prey upon people’s desires to create that perfect break for friends and family, using online offers of villas, hotels and flights that are either double-booked or simply don’t exist. Last year the NFIB continued to receive hundreds of reports of holiday fraud but the actual number of victims could be much greater, with some people still reluctant to come forward and say they have fallen foul of the fraudsters. Only by knowing the true nature and scale of the problem can we identify and effectively target those most responsible for this damaging and distressing crime, which is why it is so important for victims of holiday fraud to contact Action Fraud.”
Tony Neate, CEO, Getsafeonline.org said: “Holidays are meant to be highlights in our year, so it can be particularly painful to get caught out by fraudsters if you’re booking yours online. But there are ways to keep yourself safe and make sure that you don’t get caught out. For example, if you do your research properly you should be able to find multiple online reviews of the holiday you’re booking, as well as the website you’re booking it though. If you can’t you may want to think again. You should then always pay on a credit card because it offers you more protection, and before entering your details check the link is secure by looking out for a padlock symbol in the browser window frame and ‘https://’ at the beginning of the web address. The ‘s’ stands for ‘secure’.”