New report shows the number of people falling victim to holiday booking fraud is soaring - and has risen by a fifth.
There were 5,826 reported cases in 2016, up 19 per cent on the previous year, according to the UK's national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre ActionFraud.
See also: Top 10 holiday scams
Over £7.2 million was lost last year - an average of £1,200 per person - with airline tickets, online accommodation and timeshares targeted.
ABTA, the City of London Police and Get Safe Online are once again joining forces to warn the public about the dangers posed by holiday booking fraud. Findings from a new report, compiled by the City of London Police's National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, reveal the scale of reported crime, and expose common tactics used by fraudsters who stole £7.2 million from almost 6,000 unsuspecting holidaymakers and other travellers in 2016.
The number of reported cases has risen almost 20% year on year from 4,910 to 5,826. The three campaign partners believe that these figures are only the tip of the iceberg with many victims not reporting the fact that they have been defrauded. The most common types of fraud relate to the sale of airline tickets, booking accommodation online as well as timeshare sales.
The average amount lost per person was approximately £1,200, but losses are not just financial they can also have an impact on health. Over a quarter (26%) of victims say that the fraud had also had a significant impact on their health or financial well-being. Most worryingly of all, 259 people said the impact on them was severe, meaning that they had to receive medical treatment or were at risk of bankruptcy.
In common with previous years, the numbers of people reporting travel fraud to the police jumps in the summer and in December. This is a very clear indication that fraudsters are targeting the most popular travel periods. Customers may be particularly vulnerable in 2017 as the overseas travel industry is reporting good early booking levels with accommodation and flights at a premium. Fraudsters could take advantage of this by offering "good deals" over the summer. These will then fail to materialise, leaving people out of pocket and with either no flights or nowhere to stay.
The two age groups most commonly targeted are those aged 20-29 and 30-39, with older generations less likely to fall victim, particularly those over 50 who are perhaps more wary of "too good to be true" offers. The majority of those who are defrauded pay by methods such as bank transfer or cash with no means of getting their money back. Some fraudsters now actively encourage these payment methods by claiming that only these payment methods are protected by their own bogus insurance schemes.
Mark Tanzer ABTA Chief Executive said: "ABTA is regularly contacted by members of the public who have been caught out by increasingly sophisticated travel related frauds. We know at first-hand that the loss and shock of finding that your flight or holiday accommodation has not been booked can be very significant. Follow the tips we have put together in partnership with the City of London Police and Get Safe Online to avoid falling victim and to make sure your hard earned money goes towards your holiday and not lining the pockets of an unscrupulous crook."
Deputy Head of Action Fraud, Steve Proffitt said: "Action Fraud has seen a consistent rise in the number of holiday fraud reports made over the past five years. We recommend that people are thorough when researching their travel arrangements and book directly with an airline or hotel, or through a reputable agent. When deciding to deal directly with a property owner or letting agent, ask them questions about the booking, room, location and area.
"From fraudulent flights to non-existent accommodation, the impact of falling victim to holiday fraud can be far greater than the financial loss and we hope that by raising awareness, people will feel better able to protect themselves from being a victim of fraud. We urge anyone who believes they have been a victim of fraud to visit actionfraud.police.uk and report the incident."
One victim, John from Tamworth, booked a villa last March for a December holiday in the Canary Islands. John paid £930 to the purported owner of the villa to secure the booking. At a later date, he wanted to check his flight details and book a car for the trip but could not find the website he had booked through. Having used a search engine to try and find the website, he came across several Trip Advisor reviews saying that the website was a scam. John has since tried to call the supposed villa owner but with no luck.
Another victim of fraud, Stephanie from London, paid £410 for a flight from Heathrow to Nigeria and received the flight e-ticket, however there was no terminal on the ticket. When she arrived at Heathrow they had no record of her booking. Stephanie has attempted to contact the flight company and was told she would receive a refund but this has not been sent. Further calls by Stephanie to the company have not been answered.
Types of holiday booking fraud
In 2016 5,826 cases of holiday booking fraud were reported to Action Fraud. The most common types of fraud related to:
Holiday Accommodation - fraudsters are making full use of the internet to con holidaymakers by setting up fake websites, hacking into legitimate accounts and posting fake adverts on websites and social media.
Airline tickets – where a customer believes they are booking a flight and receives a fake ticket or pays for a ticket that never turns up. In 2016, flights to Africa and the Indian sub-continent were particularly targeted, suggesting that fraudsters are targeting the visiting friends and family market and may well be making use of lack of knowledge of the strict regulations in place for the legitimate UK based travel industry.
Sports and religious trips– a popular target for fraud due to limited availability of tickets and consequently higher prices.
Timeshares and holiday clubs – the sums involved with this form of fraud are particularly high with victims often losing tens of thousands of pounds each.
Top tips to avoid becoming a travel fraud victim
The City of London Police, ABTA and Get Safe Online have published advice on how to avoid becoming a victim of holiday booking fraud – and on how victims should go about reporting it. This advice includes the top tips below:
Stay safe online: 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
Do your research: Don't just rely on one review - do a thorough online search to check the company's credentials. If a company is defrauding people there is a good chance that consumers will post details of their experiences, and warnings about the company.
Look for the logo: Check whether the company is a member of a recognised trade body such as ABTA. If you have any doubts, you can verify membership of ABTA online, at www.abta.com.
Pay safe: Never pay directly into a private individual's bank account. Paying by direct bank transfer is like paying by cash – the money is very difficult to trace and is not refundable. Wherever possible, pay by credit card or a debit card.
Check paperwork: You should study receipts, invoices as well as terms and conditions. Be very wary of any companies that don't provide any at all. When booking through a Holiday Club or Timeshare, get the contract thoroughly vetted by a solicitor before signing up.
Use your instincts: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Report it: Victims should contact Action Fraud via www.actionfraud.police.uk.
Get free expert advice: For further advice on how to stay safe when booking or researching travel online, go to www.getsafeonline.org
For a full list of tips to avoid becoming a victim of fraud visit abta.com.