British holidaymakers have been conned out of £2.2 million in the past year by fraudsters using a series of internet-based scams and deceptions, a new report reveals.
Criminal groups have targeted online booking firms in order to swindle cash from unsuspecting customers, many of whom only discover they have been duped when they arrive at their accommodation and find no booking has been made.
Travel association ABTA, police and the government's Get Safe Online service have joined forces to urge caution for potential fraud victims when booking a holiday over the internet following today's report from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau.
In one case, a member of the public lost £62,000 in a fraud relating to a bogus timeshare scheme. Losses are not just financial: one third of victims said the fraud had a substantial impact on their health as well as their financial wellbeing - while 167 victims reported the impact of the crime was so severe they had to receive medical treatment.
Mark Tanzer, ABTA chief executive, said: "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 so that the police can build up a case, catch the perpetrators and prevent other unsuspecting people from falling victim."
There are spikes of reported fraud in the summer months and in December which paint a very clear picture of disappointed holidaymakers and ruined trips to visit loved ones for Christmas. The age group most commonly targeted is those aged 30-49.
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.
The report reveals during a 12-month period 1,569 cases of holiday booking fraud were reported to the police's action fraud team. The most common types relate to fake plane tickets, hacking accounts, posting bogus adverts online, and setting up dodgy websites.
Sports and religious trips have often proved to be an attractive target due to limited availability and consequent higher prices, according to the study. In 2014 the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and World Cup in Brazil were targeted with numerous people having paid for non-existent accommodation or tickets.
In one case, a family travelled for five hours to enjoy a week-long break in Cornwall - at a cost of £1,500 - only to find the website had been hacked and the bank details altered, meaning they were unable to use the accommodation or retrieve the money.
Three generations of the same family also had an expensive trip to Istanbul ruined when their £2,500 booking was taken by a fake agent.
Detective chief superintendent Dave Clark, the City of London Police head of economic crime, said: "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."