How to Avoid Holiday Scams this Summer

Action Fraud reported in May on 1,907 holiday scam and travel-related fraud stories at a cost to each victim of £1,242. IPS want to prevent that being you.

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What is a Holiday Scam ?

Holiday scams and fraud usually end with individuals handing over money only to discover the holiday accommodation and/or flights they paid for do not exist.  With the recent surge in holiday advertising and increased demand for staycations, UK Finance has urged travellers to be aware of fake listings for UK cottages, motorhomes and caravan holidays, as well as deals relating to music festivals, cooking retreats and cycling holidays.

Prevalence of scams

During 2020, 56% of reported holiday scams related to the booking airline tickets with 29% related to the sale of accommodation.

Almost 32% of victims were found to have had contact with the suspect after they responded to an approach or advertisement on a media platform.  Of these,  Facebook was the most common platform at 62% with Airbnb and Booking.com accounting for 10% each.  These are online destinations where third parties get to advertise their ‘wares’ to prospective holidaymakers and present a ripe opportunity for scammers to target victims relatively cheaply.

An increasingly common scam is to optimize a fake website to capture interest from people searching in Google searching for cheap flights or cheap accommodation.  They will always be convincing and usually get victims to type in personal information, if not asking for full payment.  Victims will then often receive a call from someone ‘from the airline’ offering to help them through the online journey and complete their payment. Sadly this might only become apparent as a fraud when the holidaymaker attempts to check-in at the airport for a holiday that does not exist.

Pauline Smith, Head of Action Fraud, stated: “We are all more eager than ever to go on a holiday and relax with family and friends, following the coronavirus pandemic.  However, criminals will stop at nothing when it comes to defrauding innocent people out of a well-deserved break and their hard-earned cash.

Criminals are increasingly using more sophisticated ways to trick their victims, which is why it’s important that we all do our research when booking a holiday and making travel arrangements… whether you’re planning on travelling abroad, or going on a domestic holiday this year”

IPS tips to avoid Holiday Scams

  • If the cost of your holiday appears considerably cheaper than elsewhere, be on your guard.  Why would this be true if there has been a surge in demand and limited supply?  If it sounds too good to be true, then it usually is!
  • Be mindful that criminals routinely to set up fake websites, expertly designed to look professional and feel genuine.  They will use logos and colour branding of well-known and reputable companies to lure potential victims into handing over personal details on money.  (Try and find the same webpage through Google.  If you can’t then it should be a red flag.)
  • Do not book holidays on websites which do not display the padlock in the address bar or uses a web address beginning with httpS where S is for security. (Read our article on how to spot a fake website)
  • If ever offered a ‘free’ holiday, alarm bells should be sounding.  Why would it make sense to offer you a free holiday?
  • Watch out for fake listings.  Popular holiday sites such as Airbnb are a great way to find reasonably priced accommodation but you should stay on their platform to benefit from their terms of service.  Airbnb and others have now banned the practice of dealing directly with the host.  All communication should be made via their website.  If you go off site you increase your risk of being a victim.
  • Always ensure that the travel company you have chosen is ATOL protected to maximise the chances of you recovering any lost or disputed money. This can be done using the following link.
  • Do not be tempted to follow a weblink if it arrives via email, especially if an unsolicited email.  Always double-check by accessing the travel operator’s official website directly on your own.
  • Be very careful when clicking on holiday links or attachments in any social media posts as there is a risk of you being directed to fake sites.
  • Always do your research.  Check online reviews making use of several online sites such as Trustpilot.  Make a note of any warnings about the company and be aware of fake reviews, simply by making use of well known and reputable organisations.
  • NEVER pay by Bank Transfer or PayPal.  Scammers prefer to offer these as the only means of payment and you are less likely to recoup your losses.  Always pay by debit or credit card, preferably a credit card as there is greater insurance cover for payments made.
  • Similarly, be on your guard against bogus travel insurance companies and fake websites offering you cheap COVID-19 cancellation cover.  Instead make use of the reputable company you are travelling with, a product offered by your bank/building society or your existing insurer for car or home.

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