According to research published by the travel association ABTA, over 5,000 of us were taken in by holiday booking scams last year. The total losses reached around 7 million pounds, with each individual losing an average of £1,380. Clearly this is a real problem that we all need to take care to avoid as we start thinking about summer holidays and city breaks.
So, what does an average holiday scam involve? Well, there are a few different things that could go wrong:
Fake airline tickets
This is the most common holiday booking scam, accounting for just over half of the incidents looked at by ABTA. Scam companies may set up websites designed to look like those of a major booking agency, so look for minor changes in the domain name and make sure you’re on the correct, verified site before booking anything. You can also avoid problems by booking with the airline rather than through an agency.
Illegitimate accommodation bookings
Imagine turning up at your hotel or villa to find out that the reservation you made wasn’t real – or, worse, that the place doesn’t exist at all. Unfortunately, this is another common problem, and 25% of the issues looked at by the ABTA related to fake accommodation. This can be one of the most distressing types of holiday fraud, because it leaves holiday-goers stranded in an unfamiliar location with nowhere to stay.
As with airline tickets, one way to avoid this is to make sure that you’re booking from a reputable company with lots of positive reviews and, ideally, a familiar brand name. Of course, there are plenty of excellent smaller companies operating that you won’t necessarily have heard of before – but getting reviews or recommendations can help you verify these before booking.
Paying for free services
Some scammers will try to make money by getting you to pay for things that can be obtained just as easily for free. For instance, applying for a European Health Insurance Card is a straightforward and free process: anybody trying to charge you for it is ripping you off. Similarly, they may try to sell you a visa that isn’t actually required for the place that you’re visiting. This is why it’s so important to do some research of your own: don’t simply take the word of a person that’s trying to sell you something.
There are also a few general rules that you can follow to avoid getting in trouble. Firstly, remember the golden rule: if something sounds too good to be true, there’s probably a reason. Scam artists might try to make a deal seem sweet by undercutting real deals – bargains are great, but also something to be wary of. Secondly, booking with a credit card is a great way to secure yourself as you should be able to do a chargeback to get the money back if things go wrong. If you’re asked to put money directly into someone’s bank account, then this is a major red flag.
If you do fall foul of any of the problems that we’ve listed, or think that you’ve been targeted by an online holiday booking scam, then you can report this to the Trading Standards e-crime team using the details here.