Travellers whose plans have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic are being targeted by scammers pretending to issue refunds for cancelled holidays, warns the UK’s banking trade body.
UK Finance is warning that fraudsters are impersonating airlines, travel companies and banks in order to steal personal information and money.
It said that holidaymakers need to look out for fake emails and copycat websites, as well as fake messages and adverts on social media.
Cold calls are also cause for concern, as numbers can be spoofed – when scammers manipulate numbers so your phone falsely displays the name of a company or your bank- to look like it’s coming from a legitimate company.
UK Finance says the virus outbreak is being exploited by criminals preying on people’s misfortune and feelings of uncertainty.
This kind of scam isn’t new. When Thomas Cook went bust last year, criminals were quick to take advantage, posing as fake claims management companies.
Signs it might be a scam
If any company has contacted you unexpectedly and is asking for personal or banking details, it’s always worth questioning.
Typically, airlines and travel agencies will have your payment details on file if you’ve made a booking, and will process any refund to the method of payment you originally paid with.
Being asked to hand over payment details again is reason to be suspicious. If you’re not sure, you can try calling the travel company back directly.
Its extremely unlikely a travel company will use a claims companies to process refunds. Scammers often claim to be from an agency that’s been hired to manage refunds, but it’s a lie.
Scam emails are often littered with spelling mistakes and errors, and probably won’t address you by your name.
They will usually include links to websites that use familiar branding to make it look genuine. But it might not look as professional as you might expect and will be missing details such as contact numbers.
There are lots of telltale signs an email or call is fake – you can find out more from our guide to spotting scams.
What you can do if you’re targeted by one of these scams
If you’re not sure if contact is genuine, take a moment to think about it and check the details. If you’re not sure, contact the travel company directly and don’t hand over any personal information until you’ve spoken to them.
You can report scams to Action Fraud, who passes information to police investigating fraud.
If you think you’ve given away any sensitive information or payment details, get in touch with your bank as they will be able to protect your accounts from fraud.
And if you’ve lost money to one of these scams, there are a number of things you can do to get your money back.
Which? consumer rights expert, Adam French, said: ‘A lack of clarity from the government and holiday companies around refunds has left many consumers confused and desperate for a way to get their money back – creating the perfect environment for fraudsters to operate and prey on victims.
‘People should be wary of any unsolicited emails, texts or calls regarding refunds and instead contact their holiday company directly to request a refund.
‘To prevent fraudsters further capitalising on this situation, there must be a coordinated approach from the banking, telecoms and tech industries. This must be done in collaboration with the government, who must also end the confusion surrounding travel advice and ensure companies are fulfilling their refund obligations.’
You can also get in touch with us about anything you’re suspicious about by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.