03 May

New report reveals seven million pounds lost to holiday booking fraud

Airlines and online accommodation main targets

Fraudsters stole over seven million pounds from unsuspecting holidaymakers and other travellers in 2018, a new report reveals today.


ABTA – The Travel Association, Action Fraud and Get Safe Online are joining forces to warn the public about the dangers posed by holiday booking fraud and give advice on how to spot and avoid travel-related fraud. The report compiled by Action Fraud and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau details the most commonly targeted areas of travel and the methods used by unscrupulous criminals to defraud the travelling public.


Over 5,000 people reported to Action Fraud that they had lost a total of just over £7 million to holiday and travel related fraud, an increase on last year, when 4,382 victims reported losing £6.7 million. The average amount lost was £1,380 per person but, as in previous years, in addition to the financial cost, victims have also reported the significant emotional impact caused by this crime. The three campaign partners also believe that the actual total figures relating to travel fraud may be even higher, with many victims feeling too embarrassed to report.


Over half, 53%, of the crimes reported were related to the sale of airline tickets. These reports were made consistently throughout the year, however the largest individual loss, of over £425,000, was made in August 2018.


The next most common fraud at 25%, related to the sale of accommodation, with a peak in reported losses in October. This indicates that many victims report their loss after the end of the summer holidays the busiest time of the year for travel and a popular target for fraudsters.


Mark Tanzer ABTA Chief Executive said:
“ABTA sees at first-hand the damage caused by travel fraudsters after customers find out their much anticipated holiday or trip to visit family and friends does not actually exist. This is why ABTA, Action Fraud and Get Safe Online work together to make people aware of the steps they can take to avoid falling foul of a holiday scam.


“The cost to victims is not just financial; this crime causes very real emotional distress. Fraudsters are using increasingly sophisticated methods to target destinations and times of year when demand is high and availability limited, as they know people will be looking for good deals. As victims often find out just before they travel or even in resort that they have been defrauded, it can then be very difficult and expensive to obtain a legitimate replacement booking compounding the financial costs and emotional distress suffered by victims. ”


Head of Action Fraud, Pauline Smith, said:

“We all love to go on holiday to relax and spend time with family and friends, however as this year’s statistics show, holidays are also an opportunity for fraudsters to trick you out of your hard-earned money. There is a startling emotional impact of falling victim to holiday fraud bringing the feeling of embarrassment and disappointment to those we love, so we want to ensure that people feel better able to protect themselves. We know that fraudsters are increasingly using more sophisticated ways to trick their victims, which is why it is important that you do your research when making travel arrangements. If you think you have been a victim of fraud, contact Action Fraud.”


Tony Neate of Get Safe Online said:

“Although it can seem alarming that reported holiday booking fraud is rising, it shouldn’t be a reason to stop you from booking your holiday online. Instead, we urge people to take some time before booking a holiday to read through our safety tips and familiarise themselves with the small changes they can make to ensure they don’t get caught out by cyber criminals. Customer reviews are invaluable but don’t rely on just one review, research thoroughly. Look out for companies that are members of professional bodies such as ABTA and be wary of paying a private individual by bank transfer, even if you are offered a discounted rate. Paying by credit card will offer you much more protection from fraud. Finally, trust your instincts, don’t get rushed into making impulsive decisions if something doesn’t feel quite right.”


Types of holiday booking fraud


In 2018 over 5,000 cases of holiday and travel booking fraud were reported to Action Fraud. The most common types of fraud related to:


Airline tickets – As well as flights relating to holidays, fraudsters particularly target the visiting friends and family market with flights to Africa and the Indian subcontinent dominating the list of affected destinations. The campaign partners believe that fraudsters may be exploiting lack of knowledge of the strict UK regulations in place governing the sale of airline tickets.


Accommodation Fraud – Fraudsters are using increasingly sophisticated methods, with very professional and convincing websites offering upmarket villas for rent. Although some of these villas are fictitious many actually exist, but are being offered by fraudsters without the legitimate owner’s knowledge. Spain and France are the two destinations most commonly targeted.


Religious trips – Haj trips are particularly attractive to fraudsters as the amounts of money involved are substantial with the average loss totalling almost £10,000 per reported case.


Top tips to avoid becoming a travel fraud victim


Action Fraud, 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: Wherever possible, pay by credit card and be wary about paying directly into a private individual’s bank account.
  • 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 https://www.getsafeonline.org/shopping-banking/holiday-and-travel-booking/

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


Holiday Fraud Case Studies – Libby and Angus are available for broadcast interviews

and are keen to share their experiences so that others don’t get caught out


Libby from London

Libby booked a houseboat in Amsterdam for her birthday last year and she found a credible looking website, which asked her to pay via a money transfer service. Libby did this thinking that the transfer would be protected through this service. To secure the booking the company also asked for a copy of her passport and forms to fill in and sign, which has also left Libby worrying about possible identity theft. The price offered was low compared to other sites Libby had looked at, but they also charged a £500 deposit, which would be returned when she checked out. The account Libby transferred the cash to was Polish, which again made her uneasy and she received an email, which made her even more uneasy, stating that the person she’d been communicating with was moving flat in New York and would only be able to pick up messages sporadically. Libby attempted to call the number on the contact form from the website and she got a message back saying they would be in touch. At this point Libby requested that a full refund be returned to her account in line with the company’s guarantee. Libby also contacted her bank, which said they could not help and the money transfer service, which informed her that they offered no protection against fraud.


Angus from Kent
Angus and his family were booked on a trip to Mallorca over Easter. They found a dream villa online with a company that also arranged transfers and a special welcome pack on arrival. Alarm bells began to ring at Palma airport when no transfer driver was waiting for them. After hours waiting, the family booked two taxis and headed off to their villa. This was everything they had hoped for, with one exception. The very friendly German host was actually the owner of the property, which he did not rent out, so he clearly had no knowledge of their booking. Very generously, he allowed the Kennedys to stay overnight, but this still left them with nowhere to stay for the rest of the trip. After paying out more money that the family could ill afford, Angus found another villa but the family is now out of pocket of almost £8,000. Angus’s bank is trying to retrieve the money from the fraudster’s Spanish bank based in Madrid but there is no guarantee of success.


Sue from Solihull
Sue and her family booked a villa online for a week in Spain for £1,610. They were offered a 10% discount if they paid in full at the time of booking plus they had to pay a £500 refundable security deposit. They decided to take the option of paying half the cost of villa plus the £500 security deposit - total of £1,305, which was then paid by bank transfer to a bank in Ireland. The villa company asked for a copy of Sue’s passport details, which she sent to them and details of flights for arrangement of the airport transfer.
Sue emailed the contact at the company and then sent a message via their online contact form but received no reply. At this stage, Sue became alarmed and started to search for news on the company, which revealed details of another member of the public who had been scammed by the same company. Sue and her family still need to find and pay for another villa in Spain for their forthcoming family holiday after paying for six flights and losing the money for this villa. Sue and her family are trying to recoup the money they have lost but do not, at this stage know if they will.


Notes to Editors:

Spokespeople from either ABTA, Action Fraud or Get Safe Online will also be available for interview on 7 May as are the three case studies.


Please contact Sean Tipton on 07894397949 or stipton@abta.co.uk to discuss options.


For further information, contact:

020 3117 0596 or press@abta.co.uk


Out of Hours:  Contact the Duty Press Officer via pager: 07659 190 987

Web: www.abta.com

Twitter: @ABTAtravel


Notes to editors

ABTA has been a trusted travel brand for over 65 years. Our purpose is to help our Members to grow their businesses successfully and sustainably, and to help their customers travel with confidence.

The ABTA brand stands for support, protection and expertise. This means consumers have confidence in ABTA and a strong trust in ABTA Members. These qualities are core to us as they ensure that holidaymakers remain confident in the holiday products that they buy from our Members.


We help our Members and their customers navigate through today's changing travel landscape by raising standards in the industry; offering schemes of financial protection; providing an independent complaints resolution service should something go wrong; giving guidance on issues from sustainability to health and safety and by presenting a united voice to government to ensure the industry and the public get a fair deal.


ABTA has around 1,200 Members, with a combined annual UK turnover of £38 billion. For more details about what we do, what being an ABTA Member means and how we help the British public travel with confidence visit www.abta.com.