As holiday bookings reach their new year peak, consumers are warned to look out for fraudulent travel websites and other holiday scams
As the UK hits the busiest time of the year for holiday bookings, experts are warning consumers about the dangers of fraudulent travel company websites and other holiday scams. Abta, the Travel Association, has produced a list of warning signs for consumers to look out for, to help reduce the risk of falling foul of bogus sites.
If a website you are looking at has a combination of the following signs, it may be an indication that it’s not to be trusted …
- Flight or holiday prices that are considerably cheaper than competitors. Flight prices are largely set by airlines, so although agents have some leeway in price, if the agent you’re contacting is charging significantly less than everyone else, this could be a sign that something is not quite right.
- Low resolution, “fuzzy” logos for trade associations and credit card companies.
- The only payment option is a bank transfer. Not only is this an indication that no bank is prepared to provide credit card facilities, but if you are dealing with a scammer it will be virtually impossible to get your money back.
- Non-receipt of tickets – constantly being “fobbed off”.
Abta also advise consumers to do an online search before booking to check the profile of the company. If the company has been defrauding people, or has a bad reputation, there is a good chance consumers will have posted details or warnings about the company.
Other advice offered to stay safe when booking online is to:
- 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. You can also check the details of the domain name of the website at who.is – when was it registered? Recently could indicate an issue, while if the address is anonymous and information about the person or organisation that registered it cannot be viewed that could also be a warning sign.
- Check whether the company is a member of a recognised trade body such as Abta or Atol. You can verify membership of Abta online at abta.com.
- Check the paperwork – you should study receipts, invoices and terms and conditions, and be wary of companies that don’t provide any.
- Use your instincts; if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Holiday fraud led to an estimated £7m being stolen from consumers in 2014, according to a report released by the City of London Police National Fraud Intelligence Bureau in April, with £2.2m lost to online scams. The average loss to the individual was £889, while one individual lost £62,000 in a fraud relating to timeshare.
The report also detailed the emotional toll for victims: one third said the fraud had a substantial impact on their health as well as their financial well-being, while 167 were affected so badly they had to receive medical treatment. According to the report, the most common types of fraud related to holiday accommodation, in which fraudsters set up fake websites and posted fake ads online, as well as fake airline bookings and bookings related to high-profile sport and religious trips, such as the World Cup or Hajj.
Stuart Fuller, director of commercial operations at online brand protection company NetNames, said professional-looking websites can be set up easily, using rudimentary coding skills. Fraudsters can also leave fake online reviews on sites such as Tripadvisor to help exploit the trust of consumers.
“Unfortunately, often victims do not discover they have been duped until arriving at the airport or hotel only to find there is no booking,” he said.
John de Vial, head of financial protection at ABTA said: “Our consumer helpline has seen an increase in calls from members of the public who are either checking the validity of a suspicious website or, worse, have already paid by bank transfer and then been fobbed off when trying to get hold of their tickets. We want to make consumers aware of this problem and stop them from being ripped off in this way.”