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26 Feb 2022

Six new travel scams to watch out for in 2022

Fraudsters are finding new ways to profit from Covid-19 and Brexit confusion

The pandemic has spawned a new breed of Covid-related scams. The ever-changing travel rules, coupled with our desperation to get away after months of lockdown, have created the perfect conditions for scam artists to strike.

Action Fraud says that £34.5m was stolen in the first year of the pandemic alone. Others have exploited changing legislation around Brexit to extract travellers' personal details and steal money.

Here we reveal the latest travel scams in 2022 and help you stay safe when planning your next getaway.

1. Sham refunds

Many of us have lost money on holidays we were unable to take during the pandemic. Scammers know this and are preying on our misfortune.

Some are cold-calling travellers to impersonate airlines, travel companies and banks in order to steal personal information and money.

This kind of scam isn't entirely new. Criminals posed as fake claims management companies when Thomas Cook went bust in 2019.

Some have managed to spoof numbers so that it looks like you're being contacted by a legitimate company.Others even know the details of your cancelled booking and how much you're owed to appear more convincing.

They will typically claim that they need your bank details to process the refund. But don't be fooled; a legitimate company will never contact you out of the blue and ask for your personal information.

If you're in any doubt, hang up and Google the company's phone number so you can get in contact directly and check if the request is genuine.

2. Charging for free travel forms

Passenger locator forms (PLFs) still need to be filled in for entry to many countries and for return to the UK - allowing governments to check you have fulfilled entry requirements.

The documents should be free of charge, but we've caught unscrupulous companies charging travellers as much as $99 (£75) to apply.Some appeared as a search engine ad or ranked higher than the official site itself in search results.

One Which? member was nearly caught out when preparing for a trip to Portugal. They told us: 'It was identical to the government form, but at the end a payment page popped up demanding u20ac59. I shut it down, but was immediately emailed by them asking me to complete the form.'

For links to the official forms, visit gov.uk and search for your destination on the foreign travel advice page.

3. Fake vaccine passports

Most countries need proof of vaccination status for entry, and fraudsters have been quick to use the situation to their advantage.

Last summer, several emails circulated inviting people to apply for a digital vaccine passport. But the NHS-branded website it linked to was a fake.

Some used 'hurry' tactics to create a sense of urgency - claiming the appointment would be passed onto the next person in the queue if rejected or that a reply was required within 72 hours.

The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) warned that these emails were a phishing ploy to obtain people's personal details and facilitate identity fraud.

Hwee Pee followed the link in the email and was prompted to input her personal information. She also provided her credit card details in order to pay the '£1.99 postage fee'. Shortly after, Hwee received a QR code from the fraudster 'for use at border controls'. Realising something was amiss, she cancelled her card and reported the scam to Action Fraud.

She told Which?: 'Within an hour, when I revisited the fraudulent website, it had been taken down. Even though I've protected my card, I can't do anything about the leak of my personal details to the fraudster.'

To avoid being caught out, never click on links in unsolicited emails.

4. Scam social media ads

Almost a third of holiday booking fraud in 2020/2021 took place on social media, according to Action Fraud, with 62% of victims targeted on Facebook.

Trading Standards Scotland warned of one woman who was left £250 out of pocket after booking a caravan break at the Craig Tara Holiday Park in Ayrshire through a fake advert. She didn't realise she'd been scammed until she turned up and found there was no record of her booking.

Quirky accommodation specialist Canopy & Stars has also spotted scam Instagram accounts promoting some of their most popular stays with apparent late or peak-season availability.

Don't be tempted to click on a link that arrives via a social media message. Always book via the official site or contact the owners of the property being advertised.

It's also a good idea to search the internet for negative reviews or forum posts by previous customers.

See our advice on how to spot a social media scam.

5. Brexit copycats

Those looking to apply for the new global health insurance card (Ghic) may risk falling foul to a copycat website.

Last year we found that three of six of the top search results on Google were firms charging for the card, which is free from the NHS.

Some even bought adverts from search engines to allow them to appear at the top of the page.

We also found opportunists selling international driving permits (IDPs) for Spain for $49. That's despite IDPs costing just £5.50 from the Post Office (and only needed for those with an old paper licence).

Google says it blocked or removed more than 3.1bn ads last year, nearly 5,900 a minute - but more take their place.Be wary of the boxed paid-for search-engine results - often the official site is the first or second non-paid link below.

6. Rogue travel companies

In 2020, more than half of all travel scams were related to airfares, according to Action Fraud. Some 7% of victims were snared by clone comparison or booking websites after searching for flights online.

The victim is then typically contacted by someone claiming to be from the airline, or flight-comparison website, to take them through the booking and arrange payment.

Some didn't realise they had been defrauded until they turned up at the airport and were unable to check in.

Be cautious if you're asked to make a bank transfer, which is virtually untraceable. Instead, pay by credit card where possible so your money is protected under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

On top of this, make sure the company is a member of a trade association such as Abta or Atol by checking the relevant website.