How to spot a holiday scam

From fake accommodation listings to dodgy reviews, here are our top tips to spotting the signs that a holiday offer is too good to be true.

1 Incredibly cheap online deal?

If the price for your flight or holiday is considerably cheaper than the average cost elsewhere, you should be suspicious. 

Flight prices are largely set by airlines – with travel agents having some leeway – so, charging significantly less is often a sign that there may be a scammer behind the offer.

2 Look out for logos

Looking out for official logos is a good way to check the authenticity of holiday booking, travel agent and tour operators.

Seeing the Atol logo in your travel company’s brochures, adverts and websites should mean your holiday will be protected. 

You can use the Check an Atol facility on the CAA website to check the Atol details of your travel company and the authenticity of any claims it’s making.

If you have booked a holiday and have been assured you are Atol protected, make sure you are also given an Atol Certificate and know for sure that your holiday is Atol protected

The law says you should be given this certificate as soon as you have booked and paid money.

What Atol covers

If you have booked an overseas air holiday booked with a UK travel company, Atol protection should apply. Your holiday must be protected by law if you’ve booked it with a single travel firm that includes the following:

  • flights and accommodation (including a cruise)
  • flights and car hire
  • flights, accommodation and car hire

The scheme also applies when you book flights UK domestic or international flights, but don’t get your tickets straight away.

Atol does not apply to holidays or flights directly booked with scheduled airlines or to flights booked with airline ticket agents.

You can also look out for any logos that the travel agent or tour operator is a member of a recognised trade body such as ABTA. This will also help you to identify if the company is legitimate.

If the company is a member of a recognised travel authority, you will have better financial protection and access to a complaints service should something go wrong.

If you’re unsure, you can go on the ABTA website and verify the membership of the travel company.

3 Watch out for fake listings

Popular holiday booking websites such as Airbnb and Holiday Lettings are a great place to find accommodation at a reasonable price.

Most listings are genuine, but scammers have figured out that they can use the popularity of these sites to dupe people and make some quick cash.

Scammers use these sites to set up fake listings with enticing deals for swanky getaways. A key tactic to look out for is that they will often try to get you to pay for your stay outside of the official website. Avoid any listing that asks you to pay by bank transfer or outside the internal system.

Don’t be tempted to follow a weblink that arrives in an email, however good it looks. If you’re prompted in an email to log in to your profile, go to the official site and do it from there. 

If the email is genuine, the same message will be there. If you’re already logged in and the message you received isn’t on the internal system, then it’s probably a scammer.

Before you book, sites such as Airbnb and Holiday Lettings ban direct contact outside of their mail system to deter fraudsters. So, if you see a listing with the host’s email or phone name, be very suspicious.

4 Bank transfer the only option?

If a bank transfer is your only option for payment, this should set alarm bells ringing. You should be especially cautious if you’re asked to pay directly into a private individual’s bank account. Not only does this show no bank is prepared to provide credit card facilities, but – if you’re dealing with a scammer – it will be almost impossible to get your money back.

Paying by direct bank transfer means your money will be very difficult to trace should something go wrong and is not refundable. Wherever possible, pay by credit card or a debit card. If you feel confident it’s not a scammer and you’re willing to make payment to the individual, make sure you use a secure payment site like PayPal.

If you’re on holiday booking sites such as Airbnb or Holiday Lettings, you should never pay by bank transfer. Always use the internal site system to pay.

5 Check online reviews

Do a thorough search to check the company’s credentials. Check multiple reviews for information on other people’s experiences and take note of any warnings about the company.

If a company is defrauding people, there’s a good chance you will find out pretty quickly by reading several reviews.

Make sure you check several online review sites before booking and don’t just rely on one. There’s a chance the scammer could have posted a few fake reviews to make them look better. 

There are some tell-tale signs that a scammer may be behind one or several reviews, including the limited sharing of factual information. Make sure you read our full list of top tips on how to spot a fake review and stay alert.

6 Being offered a ‘free’ holiday?

Getting something for free is incredibly rare and so if you’re being offered a free holiday, you should be on your guard.

Many victims of timeshare scams were offered ‘free’ holidays to entice them into attending a seminar where they were then pressured into committing to a dodgy timeshare deal they later struggle to pay for or to sell to someone else.

You need to be on your guard against being talked into signing up for something you later regret. For example, closely study T&Cs, as well as receipts and invoices, when considering an offer and be very wary of any companies that don’t provide any at all.

Before you commit to signing any type of contract, especially if the offer involves a holiday club or timeshare, it’s a good idea to get it thoroughly vetted by a solicitor.

Beware high-pressure selling

Timeshare agreements last for a long time and can be difficult to cancel, and some are sold in very high-pressure situations.  

At these two to three-hour seminar sales pitches, you may be offered additional perks such as free alcohol and food to try entice you.

After saying ‘no’ to the first salesperson, often a more senior colleague will take their place, and so on. For every reason you give to decline, the salesperson will offer a sweetened deal or argument to try and convince you that your reason for saying ‘no’ to them is not a good reason.

7 Buy official

If you’re planning on going to a well-known religious pilgrimage, want to buy a ticket for a popular festival event or are desperate to go to a sporting game in high demand, you should try to buy through the official website and be careful of secondary ticketing sites.

Scammers know which events are popular and which have limited tickets, so will try and take advantage of people willing to pay high prices.

Take action on scams

While we can take sensible steps like these to protect ourselves, the techniques used by criminals are constantly evolving, and place an unfair burden on us to constantly try to stay one step ahead.

Which? is calling on the government to take the lead in ensuring companies safeguard us all from the many different types of scam. Don’t let the fraudsters get away with it – help to convince the government to confront scams head on by signing our petition.

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Fraud is now at record levels, with more than five million scams costing Brits a mind-boggling £9bn each year. We’re urging the government to take the lead and ensure companies safeguard us all from scams.

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