Findings from a new report have revealed the scale of reported crime and expose common tactics used by fraudsters who stole an estimated £2.2million from unsuspecting holidaymakers and other travellers in 2014.
According to the report compiled by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) section of the City of London Police, the most common type of crime involved fraudsters hacking into the accounts of owners on well-known accommodation sites or spoofing these websites with convincing bogus imitations.
Disappointed holidaymakers found the villas and apartments they thought they had booked and paid for were non-existent or had never been booked.
UK caravan stays were also targeted with adverts for non-existent accommodation posted on Facebook, Gumtree and Craigslist.
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 in a fraud relating to timeshare. 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 that they had had to receive medical treatment.
There are spikes of reported fraud in the summer months and in December which paint a clear picture of disappointed holidaymakers and ruined 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 to the force’s Action Fraud. The most common types relate to holiday accommodation, airline tickets, sports and religious trips and holiday clubs.
Mark Tanzer, ABTA Chief Executive, explains: “Holiday fraud is a particularly distressing form of fraud as the loss to the victim is not just financial but it can also have a high emotional impact. Many victims are unable to get away on a long awaited holiday or visit to loved ones and the financial loss is accompanied by a personal loss.
“Every year we are contacted by members of the public who have been the victims of fraudsters, the majority through online scams. We urge travellers to follow the tips that we have put together in partnership with the Police and Get Safe Online to stop travel fraudsters in their tracks. We would also encourage anyone who has been the victim of a travel related fraud to report it to Action Fraud so that the police can build up a case, catch the perpetrators and prevent other unsuspecting people from falling victim.” He added.
Detective Chief Superintendent Dave Clark, the City of London Police Head of the Economic Crime, said: “The internet has revolutionised the way we look for and book our holidays.
“The unfortunate reality is that it is also being exploited by fraudsters who use online offers of accommodation and flights that do not exist or promising bookings that are never made to rip off unsuspecting holidaymakers.
“The nature and scale of holiday fraud means police action alone can only be part of the solution to this problem. Online shoppers must be vigilant and conduct all the necessary checks before booking a break to ensure the conmen are kept at bay.
“I would also urge anyone who has fallen victim to a holiday fraud to contact Action Fraud. Doing this will help the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau to identify and target those most responsible for this harmful and upsetting crime.”
The City of London Police, 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.