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Updated: 4 Mar 2022

Seven ways to catch out travel scammers

Don't let a fraudster get the better of you. Here are the red flags to watch out for

Holidays have been off the agenda for far too long. And in our haste to jet off to sunnier climes, we could be more likely to fall for a travel scam.

Which? recently revealed the sneaky ways fraudsters are exploiting confusion around Covid-19 and Brexit to line their pockets. These include copycat sites for the Ghic health card and fake vaccine passports.

But new scams are popping up all the time. Here we reveal the warning signs to look out for when planning your next holiday.

1. Ask yourself: is the deal too good to be true?

Scammers will often dangle an enticing incentive to lure in unsuspecting victims. Think about it: is the price of that flight just too cheap? Or are you being offered late or peak season availability when everywhere else is fully booked?

The fraudster may even pose as a legitimate and trustworthy travel company to trick you into thinking you've won a prize draw. These can appear as a social media post or as an email.

In 2016 a fake Emirates promotion was circulated via WhatsApp calling on recipients to claim two free flight tickets.

If you clicked on the link you were taken to a survey to complete - a ruse to steal your personal details.

To avoid being caught out, do a quick search for the promotion. If the brand is advertising a deal on social media, the details are likely to appear on its homepage as well.

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

2. Be wary when you're contacted out of the blue

Phone call from unknown number late at night. Scam
Cold calls or unsolicited emails should always raise suspicions, particularly if you're asked to provide payment or personal details.

In 2019, criminals posed as fake claims management companies after Thomas Cook went bust.

One website convincingly used the Thomas Cook logo and claimed to be helping travellers get their money back.

But a legitimate company will never contact you without warning and ask for sensitive information.

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

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3. Check suspicious URLs and email addresses

Closely inspect any URLs you aren't sure about. Does it contain random letters or symbols in unexpected places? Is it different from the company website?

Similarly scam emails often contain a fairly bizarre collection of characters you wouldn't expect to see associated with a legitimate travel company.

Always hover the cursor or right-click on the sender name so you can check the email address behind any message you receive. You can also check any unfamiliar company names are members of travel associations Abta or Atol by checking the relevant site.

When enteringpersonal details, look for 'https://' at the beginning of the web address. It shows that encryption is in place for your protection.

Find out more about how to avoid an email scam.

4. Look for sloppy branding or spelling mistakes

Inconsistencies with the logo or branding on an email or website can also be a red flag. Is it identical to what you usually see from the company?

If it's a brand you're unfamiliar with, find its profile page on social media or its website. Make sure it looks professional rather than a quick, sloppy job.

Spelling or grammatical mistakes, as well as mismatched font styles and sizes, are another potential giveaway.

Legitimate organisations will rarely make errors in their emails because they've been written and checked by professionals.

Fake company websites may also use a A PO Box, rather than a full postal address, or a mobile number instead of a landline.

5. Be mindful of hurry tactics

You are far more likely to fall for a scam if you don't stop to think. That's why fraudsters often try to hurry your decision making.

Last summer, fake vaccine passport emails circulated claiming the appointment would be passed onto the next person in the queue if rejected or that a reply was required within 72 hours.

These emails were a phishing ploy to obtain people's personal details and facilitate identity fraud.

Give yourself the time and space to make an informed decision. Anyone who tries too hard to rush you is not to be trusted.

6. Question any unexpected fees

Are you being asked to pay for a service that is available cheaper, or free-of-charge, elsewhere?

Be wary when applying for travel visas or the new global health insurance card (Ghic): Which? has found copycat websites popping up in the top search results on Google.

Some companies even bought adverts from search engines to allow them to appear at the top of the page - with the official site in the first or second non-paid link below.

We found one copycat site blatantly imitating the United States government site to charge up to $88 for an Esta.

In reality the visa waiver form, needed by all Brits travelling to the US, costs just $14 from the official site.

7. Notice when someone's trying too hard to sound official

Scammers often use overly formal language in an attempt to sound legitimate, including use of the word 'official'. Does the correspondence sound like it's trying too hard?

Also watch out for phoney account numbers or IDs designed to trick you into thinking the email is genuine.

Check these against your own records to make sure they match and haven't just been picked at random.