ABTA – The Travel Association has joined together with the Metropolitan Police Economic & Specialist Crime Unit’s Operation Sterling and other leading travel organisations to launch PROFiT (Prevent Fraud in Travel) - a forum that aims to stamp out fraud in the travel industry – on Friday 20 February at New Scotland Yard.
ABTA estimates that more than £10 million each year is stolen by fraudsters targeting the industry while the Office of Fair Trading believes around 400,000 British holidaymakers are hit by travel scams every year.
The travel industry is vulnerable to fraudsters on two fronts: those crooks that target businesses and those that target the public. PROFiT will primarily aim at providing businesses with tips and procedures to spot and avoid fraud. This will benefit consumers by keeping down prices and prevent reputable companies from potentially going out of business. In addition PROFiT has five essential tips to consumers on how to avoid being scammed.
ABTA’s Top Tips for Travellers
Gareth Thomas, Consumer Affairs Minister is supporting the police initiative and said: “I am very pleased that as part of its wider Operation Sterling initiative the Metropolitan Police has identified the travel sector as one which deserves special attention. When fraud does occur in the holiday sector, it can have a particularly devastating effect on consumers. I am also very pleased that those on the Forum who represent the travel industry are so willing to be involved. I hope this close and collaborative relationship will prove highly successful in identifying and tackling the fraudsters before they can do their damage.”
Mike Monk ABTA Head of Finance said: “If we’re going to beat the fraudsters it is essential that all of us in the travel industry work together and with the police to share information and raise awareness with the public. The cost of fraud shouldn’t just be measured in terms of lost money but also in the misery and disappointment caused to the public when their dream holiday goes up in smoke. We have joined PROFiT to help us improve our procedures and to try and keep one step ahead of the criminals.”
Past examples of travel fraudsters scamming the public have included four criminals who ran a succession of bogus companies that advertised non-existent holidays. These companies subsequently failed leaving thousands out of pocket and without holidays. ABTA estimates that over 12 years this group alone stole in excess of £10 million to fund lavish lifestyles. After concerted efforts by founder members of PROFiT the culprits were finally caught and convicted in 2008 but their form of crime is still attractive to fraudsters and puts the industry and public at risk.
As well as consumers and travel companies, resorts and hotels can also be damaged by this type of crime. When fraudulent companies offer fictitious breaks at unreasonably low prices and then the plug is pulled hotels and resorts are left half empty.
Founding members of PROFiT include: