04 Mar

ABTA and Police issue warning on rising holiday booking fraud

New Police report reveals fraudsters con travellers out of millions a year, with airline tickets, accommodation and group bookings most vulnerable

ABTA, The City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) and Get Safe Online have joined forces to warn the general public about the dangers posed by holiday booking fraud.

Findings from a new report compiled by the NFIB reveal the scale of the crime and expose common tactics used by fraudsters who stole an estimated £7million from unsuspecting holidaymakers and other travellers in 2013.

The 2014 report reveals that during a 12 month period over 4500 cases of holiday booking fraud were reported. The most common types relate to: 

  • Holiday accommodation – according to the report almost a third (30%) of holiday fraud victims in 2013 were scammed by the fraudulent advertisement of holiday villas and apartments, with some arriving at their destination to discover they had nowhere to stay.
  • 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. This is the second most common type of booking fraud, accounting for 21% of holiday booking fraud reported to the police in 2013. Average losses are more than £1000 per victim, with flights to West Africa a particular target.
  • Package holidays – particularly group, sports and religious packages. The report highlights the Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia and major sporting events such as the Ryder Cup as particular targets for fraudsters. These types of package holiday fraud accounted for 17% of reports in 2013. In 2014, packages for the Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games in Scotland, and travel to the World Cup in Brazil, may prove a target.

A 2013 *YouGov poll for ABTA revealed that one in ten consumers (9%) do nothing to research their travel company, such as checking if it is a member of a trade association such as ABTA (which has a code of conduct in place to protect consumers), asking friends and family for recommendations, or running a web search.

ABTA, the NFIB 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, including the top tips below:

  • Do your research: Don’t just rely on one review, do a thorough online search to ensure 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, online
  • Look for the logo: Check whether the company is a member of a recognised trade body such as ABTA. You can verify membership of ABTA online
  • 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
  • Pay safe: Never pay directly into an owner's bank account. Paying by direct bank transfer is like paying by cash – the money cannot be traced and is not refundable. Where possible, pay by credit card, (or a debit card that offers protection)
  • Check paperwork: You should study receipts, invoices and terms and conditions, and beware of any companies that don’t provide any at all
  • Use your instincts: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is
  • Report it – victims should contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or via www.actionfraud.police.uk.

For a full list of tips to avoid becoming a victim of fraud please see: www.abta.com/fraud

Mark Tanzer, ABTA Chief Executive, said: “Fraudsters are conning unsuspecting holidaymakers and travellers out of thousands of pounds each year - leaving them out of pocket or stranded with nowhere to stay through fake websites, false advertising, bogus phone calls and email scams. As well as financial loss there is the huge emotional impact of being stranded abroad or unable to afford another holiday. I’d encourage everyone booking travel arrangements to be vigilant and follow our tips to avoid becoming a victim of this type of fraud.”

Detective Superintendent O’Doherty, Director of NFIB, said: “The internet has changed the way we look for and book our holidays. Unfortunately it is also enabling fraudsters, using online offers of villas, hotels and flights that simply don’t exist or promising bookings that are never made, to prey upon those looking for that perfect break. We would urge those who have fallen foul of fraudsters to come forward by contacting Action Fraud to report their loss. By reporting it, victims are helping the NFIB to identify and effectively target those most responsible for this damaging and distressing crime.”

Tony Neate, CEO, Get Safe Online said: “Going on holiday is one of the most enjoyable parts of the year, making it all the more devastating if you find yourself arriving at the airport or hotel to find your ticket isn’t valid. There are some simple steps people can take to reduce the chance of becoming the next victim of holiday booking fraud. The most important thing being to do your research! By this I mean checking a range of online reviews of the holiday you are about to book and that the company you are booking with is a member of a recognised trade association. If you’re satisfied it is legit, make sure you use a credit card to pay as it offers more protection if anything goes wrong. Likewise, check the site is secure before paying by looking out for a padlock symbol in the browser window frame and ‘https://’ at the beginning of the web address.”

Case study: Laura Parks, from Thirsk in North Yorkshire, bought a Loch Ness weekend Valentine break for her and her husband Sean, a soldier on leave from Afghanistan, but was left over £1000 out of pocket after discovering that the romantic lodge she had booked did not exist. The lodge was advertised on Facebook and through a professional-looking website but it turned out that photos of the lodge had been taken from another legitimate website that had nothing to do with the firm Laura dealt with. Laura and Sean were stranded in blizzard conditions and were forced to spend money on securing alternative accommodation, as well as losing close to £400 on their original booking for the lodge and meals after paying the bogus company through bank transfer.

*The research was conducted by YouGov Plc for ABTA. Total sample size was 2072 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 18 - 20 February 2013. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

About Get Safe Online

Get Safe Online (www.getsafeonline.org), which is now entering its seventh year, is the UK’s national internet security awareness initiative. A joint partnership between the Government, the National Crime Agency (NCA), Ofcom and private sector sponsors from the worlds of technology, communications, retail and finance, the initiative continues to educate, inform and raise awareness of internet security issues to encourage confident, safe use of the internet. getsafeonline.org is supported by the Cabinet Office, Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS), Home Office, National  Crime Agency (NCA), National Fraud Authority & Action Fraud, Ofcom, HSBC, Barclays, Microsoft, Gumtree, Symantec, Kaspersky Lab, Bob’s Business, Creative Virtual and PayPal.

About Action Fraud

Action Fraud is the national reporting centre for fraud and internet crime, and provides a central point of contact for information and advice. The service is run by the National Fraud Authority – the government agency that helps co-ordinate the fight against fraud in the UK. Action Fraud works with partners in law enforcement - the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, run by the City of London Police - to make sure fraud reports reach the right place. All confirmed reports of fraud from Action Fraud are passed on to the NFIB. Members of the public, the police, businesses and charities can report to Action Fraud online or on the phone. If a crime is established, victims will be provided with a crime reference number.
Visit www.actionfraud.police.uk or call the contact centre on 0300 123 2040 to speak to a specially trained advisor.

About National Fraud Intelligence Bureau

The NFIB is a national crime reporting and intelligence development centre for fraud reported by individual victims, small businesses and a wide range of public and private sector organisations. Hosted by the City of London Police, it is a key partner and driver of the Government’s counter fraud strategy and acts as a central co-ordination point for the regional law enforcement response to fraud and economic crime. It uses one of the most advanced police intelligence systems in the world to identify repeat and serious offenders and to share across sectors new and emerging and fraud trends with the aims of early crime prevention and victim protection, and proactive disruption of fraudsters.