Each year, fraudsters target unsuspecting holidaymakers and travellers conning them out of millions of pounds. Not only are people losing substantial sums of money but many holidays are being ruined, with people unable to afford a replacement. Over the past four years, we've joined forces with the City of London Police, Action Fraud and Get Safe Online to raise awareness of different types of holiday booking fraud and how you can avoid becoming a victim.

What is holiday booking fraud and how to avoid the common types?

Holiday booking fraud is when people hand over money only to discover the holiday, accommodation or flight they paid for doesn’t exist.

Fraudsters are conning unsuspecting holidaymakers and travellers out of millions of pounds each year or leaving them stranded with nowhere to stay.

The most common types of booking fraud are: 

  • 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.
  • 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 losing typically thousands of pounds. 

Top tips to help avoid holiday booking fraud

  • 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 ensure the company is credible. If they’re suspect, other people may well have posted their experiences warning people off.
  • Look for the logo: Check whether the company is an ABTA Member. Look for the ABTA logo on the company's website and if you have any doubts, verify membership by visiting our ABTA Member search. If you're booking a flight and want more information about ATOL protection, or would like to check whether a company is an ATOL holder, then please visit the CAA website.
  • Pay safe: Never pay directly into an private individuals bank account. 
  • Check the paperwork: You should study receipts, invoices and terms and conditions, and 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 always contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or register via Action Fraud.
  • Get free expert advice: For further advice on how to stay safe when booking or researching travel online, go to Get Safe Online.

Airline tickets, passports and visas

Top tips for flight bookings

Airline tickets are an attractive area for fraudsters. Fraudsters will often offer fares that are a lot lower than their competitors which can be a warning sign. It is important to remember to look for whether the agent is an IATA license holder – the majority are and if so they are required to issue tickets immediately on full payment so, insist on being emailed as soon as you have paid – preferably by credit or debit card. A few agents do buy in legitimate tickets from other companies which will have an ATOL license – ask for a confirmation invoice from the ATOL holder supplying the ticket.  In both cases full details of the flights and itinerary should be shown along with a six digit number (the PNR – Passenger Name Record) –  which is the unique id for your flight reservations – check this to make sure your ticket is genuine.

Applying for a visa or passport – don’t pay ‘extra’!

Visas are required for many countries around the world for a fee and are usually available online. Many official looking websites will charge you an additional fee whilst adding nothing of value to the process, so always go to the official government website to avoid these extra fees. The correct addresses can be found on the FCO’s travel advice. This is also a problem for UK passport applications so always go to: www.gov.uk/apply-renew-passport when applying for or renewing your passport.

Reporting fraud

What to do if you have been a victim of fraud

If you have been a victim of fraud, there is a network of support and information available to you and you can also help prevent other people being scammed. If you have been affected, here’s what to do:

  • Report it to Action Fraud at www.actionfraud.police.uk. You can use the online tool if you suspect you’ve been targeted
  • If you think the company maybe a member of a trade body such as ABTA, report the fraud to them
  • If you paid for the holiday using your credit or debit card, report the fraud to your card issuer
  • If you have any information on any crime and you would prefer not to speak to police, you can call independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or visit www.crimestoppers-uk.org

More Information

Useful websites:

Each year, fraudsters target unsuspecting holidaymakers and travellers conning them out of millions of pounds. Not only are people losing substantial sums of money but many holidays are being ruined, with people unable to afford a replacement. 

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 a 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 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 £1610. 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 £1305, 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.