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Rise in reports of holiday scams

Fake airline tickets, non-existent accommodation and dodgy timeshare sales are leaving people out of pocket

Holiday scams are on the rise, with the number of reported cases up almost 20% year on year – from 4,910 to 5,826 in 2016 – according to Action Fraud figures.

Those reporting scams had lost around £1,200 on average.

But the losses are not just financial: for many, it also affected their health. More than a quarter of victims told Action Fraud that the experience also had a significant effect on their health or financial wellbeing.

Most concerning is that 259 people said the impact was severe, meaning that they had received medical treatment or been left at risk of bankruptcy.

The most common types of holiday fraud relate to the sale of airline tickets, booking accommodation online and timeshare sales.

Those aged 20-39 were the most common targets of holiday scams, with older generations less likely to fall victim, which bucks the trend for many types of fraud.

How to spot holiday scams

We give you the scoop on how to spot the most common scams.

  • ‘Too good to be true’ flight or holiday prices: considerably cheaper prices should set alarm bells ringing. Flight prices are largely set by the airlines – with travel agents having some leeway – so charging significantly less is often a sign something isn’t right.
  • No such thing as a ‘free’ holiday: many victims of timeshare scams were offered ‘free’ holidays to entice them into attending a seminar where they were duped into buying a fraudulent timeshare.You need to be on your guard against being talked into signing up for something you later regret.
  • The only payment option is a bank transfer: this should also set alarm bells ringing. 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. Use online reviews. There is a good chance that consumers will post details of their experiences and warnings about the company. Check several online review sites before booking.
  • Buy official: if you’re buying tickets for an event, you should only buy from official ticket sellers, especially if you know the event is in high demand.

Stay one step ahead of holiday scams, for more information read our guide on how to spot holiday fraud.

How do holiday scams happen?

In common with previous years, the numbers of people reporting travel fraud to the police jumps over the summer and in December.

This is a very clear indication that fraudsters are targeting the most popular travel periods. Customers may be particularly vulnerable this year, as the overseas travel industry is reporting good early-booking levels, with accommodation and flights at a premium.

Fraudsters could take advantage of this by offering ‘good deals’ over the summer. These will then fail to materialise, leaving people out of pocket and with either no flights or nowhere to stay.

The majority of those who were defrauded paid by bank transfer or cash, leaving little chance of getting their money back.

Some fraudsters now actively encourage people to pay in these ways by claiming that they are the only payment methods protected by their own bogus insurance schemes.

Don’t get stung by a holiday scam, read our guide on how to spot holiday fraud.

Four most common holiday scams

In 2016, 5,826 cases of holiday booking fraud were reported to Action Fraud. The most common types of fraud related to:

  • 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. In 2016, flights to Africa and the Indian subcontinent were particularly targeted, suggesting that fraudsters are preying upon people who make visits to their friends and family, and may well be exploiting a lack of knowledge of the strict regulations in place for the legitimate UK-based travel industry.
  • Sports and religious trips: these are a popular target for fraud due to limited ticket availability and, consequently, higher prices.
  • Timeshares and holiday clubs: the sums involved with this form of fraud are particularly high – victims often lose tens of thousands of pounds.
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