Don't let holiday fraudsters spoil your summer

by Leeds Building Society

You’ve worked hard. You’ve saved hard. You’ve earnt your holiday this year.

Now imagine checking your inbox for your flight confirmation, and it never turns up. Or touching down at the airport and making your way to a picturesque villa, only to find that it doesn’t actually exist.

Whether you’re chasing sunsets or ski slopes, or simply the great British seaside, holiday fraud is a real risk. And it can happen to even the savviest of people.

The many faces of holiday fraud

Here’s how ActionFraud, run by the City of London Police, define holiday fraud:

“When you’ve paid a travel agent or agency, or someone offering short-term lodging for rent online, and find out that the holiday you’ve booked (or parts of it) doesn’t exist.”

Fraudsters are clever. They use a lot of tricks, tactics and cons, including:

  • Accommodation – they post fake adverts online, make sham sales calls and send emails and text messages advertising temptingly cheap rates. The fraudsters might steal images of villas, hotels or caravans from legitimate websites and pass them off as their own.
  • Airline tickets – you’re sold flight tickets that never turn up, or you get to the airport to find out the ticket that did arrive is a fake.
  • Sports trips – you buy false tickets or trips for big tournaments like the Olympics, the World Cup or Six Nations to name a few.
  • Religious trips/public holidays – the fraudsters target people travelling home to visit family in time for public or religious holidays.
  • Timeshare/Holiday clubs – ever been told you’ve won a ‘free’ holiday? And all you have to do is attend a presentation about an exclusive holiday club to claim it*. You’ll probably end up having to pay for flights and add-ons to claim your ‘free’ holiday. And after the long presentation you’ll be pressured into signing a contract to be part of the club. The contract you sign will be hugely at odds with the sales pitch in the presentation.
  • Recovery fraud – like other types of fraud, if you’ve already been a victim, you might be targeted again by fraudsters claiming to offer a return on what you lost. There were a lot of reports of this in 2018 by people who had initially been victim to timeshare fraud**.

Ok, but it won’t happen to me…

We know – you never think it’ll happen to you until it does. But holiday fraud impacts thousands of people every year.

A report by ActionFraud found, in 2017, Fraudsters stole £6.7 million from 4,700 holidaymakers and travellers***. However the real numbers are probably much higher, as many victims never report the crime.

Unsurprisingly, the number of holiday fraud reports really jump in number during the summer and Christmas seasons. During these peak travel periods good value bookings are harder and harder to find. Fraudsters are exploiting this to offer their seemingly ‘great deals’ to unsuspecting victims.

How can I outsmart the scammers?

  • Research. Can you find anything online about the company you’re booking through? If they’re defrauding people, other victims may have posted details of their experiences online, and warnings to others. Never rely on just one review.
  • Verify. Can you find the accommodation you’ve booked on an online map? Is there a phone number for the owner/agent so you can confirm directly? If there isn’t a number, email and request it.
  • Check for reviews on independent third-party review sites. Can’t find any? Be suspicious.
  • Pay by credit card if you can – there’s more of a chance of getting your money back if something goes wrong. If you’re asked to pay by bank transfer or directly into a person’s individual private account, you’re right to doubt.
  • Are the travel agents/tour operators’ members of trade associations like the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) or Air Travel Organiser’s Licence (ATOL)? Look out for the logos and go to the association websites to find out.
  • If you’re paying online, type in the website address you know to be correct instead of following a link. Ensure the payment page is secure – it will begin with ‘https’ and will have a locked padlock in the browser window frame.
  • Seems really cheap? If you think it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Check terms and conditions before you sign anything or make any payments. Be suspicious of companies who don’t provide any at all.
  • Keep confirmations and payment receipts, and check statements for irregular entries.
  • Get professional advice – if you’re signing up to a Holiday Club or Timeshare, you should consider getting the contract thoroughly vetted by a solicitor before you go for it.

There’s some great resources out there to help you stay safe and secure online. We recommend visiting the Get Safe Online and ActionFraud websites for some expert and impartial advice. You can also take a look at the fraud section of our website for some information on other common scams and what to do when someone’s trying to trick you.

Remember to always Take Five to stop fraud. Stop. Think. Does what you’re being told to do really make sense?

If you’ve been a victim of fraud, you should report it to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or by visiting their online reporting form.

* https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/a-z-of-fraud/holiday-club-fraud

**https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/alert/fraudsters-target-timeshare-owners

*** https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/news/action-fraud-reports-show-6-7-million-lost-to-holiday-booking-fraud