Scamwatch: holidaymakers warned

Over-friendly strangers may have ulterior motives...

happy couple at the bar...

Stay one step ahead of the fraudsters with our series of articles giving you the lowdown on the scams they use to trick people out of their hard-earned cash - and how to avoid being taken in by them.

This week, we take a closer look at the travel scams to avoid when you are booking a holiday - and while you are away.

How does it work?

The US State Department got itself into a pickle on Twitter this week after advising those with less-than-perfect looks to be wary of attention while on holiday.

The offending tweet read: "Not a '10' in the US? Then not a 10 overseas. Beware of being lured into buying expensive drinks or worse-being robbed."

The department later deleted the message and issued an apology. But its message was a serious one.

Holidaymakers are an easy target for con artists ranging from small-time thieves to timeshare salesmen. And the problems sometimes start before you even leave.

Many Britons complain of booking holidays that were misrepresented in sales material. In fact, nearly half have endured holidays that were "nothing like" what was advertised, according to recent research.

Common scams to be aware of while you are away, meanwhile, include dodgy taxi drivers charging the wrong meter rate or giving change in counterfeit notes, thieves trying to get you drunk so they can steal your stuff, and high-pressure timeshare sales meetings.

How can I avoid being caught out?

The easiest way to protect yourself against holiday sales misrepresentation is to only book trips directly with reputable travel companies, most of which are members of a trade body such as ABTA, the Travel Association or the Air Travel Organisers Licensing (ATOL).

Its also a good idea to keep any cash in an inside pocket or security belt, to be on your guard against over-friendly strangers in bars or on the street, and to only take licensed taxis with visible registration numbers.

I've been defrauded. What should I do?

The first step if you feel tricked by a holiday company is to complain directly to the company.

If you are unhappy with how your complaint is handled, you can then escalate your case to the relevant trade body - if it is a member of one.

Thefts in public areas and dodgy salesmen, meanwhile, should be reported to the local police.

If you feel you have been ripped off by a taxi firm, and you have some supporting evidence such as a receipt or the taxi registration number, report it to your hotel or hostel manager.

As long as the taxi company is reputable, the hotel may well be able to secure you a refund.