Findings from a new report, compiled by the City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) reveal the scale of reported crime, and expose common tactics used by fraudsters who stole £11.5 million from unsuspecting holidaymakers and other travellers in 2015.
According to the report there has been a rise of 425% in the amount reported lost to travel fraudsters - up to £11.5 million in 2015 from £2.2 million in 2014 – although part of the increase is likely to be due to the crime previously going unreported.
The most common fraud type relates to the sale of airline tickets and there has also been a large increase in the number of owner accounts being hacked into on popular sharing accommodation websites.
Losses to the individual can be substantial with the average loss being almost £3,000. Losses are not just financial, with almost half of victims (44%) saying that the fraud had also had a significant impact on their health.
There are distinct spikes of reported fraud in the summer months and in December, indicating fraudsters are targeting holidaymakers and people booking last-minute flights home for Christmas.
The age group most commonly targeted is those aged 30-49, many of whom will have young families. The majority of those who are defrauded pay by methods such as bank transfer or cash with no means of getting their money back.
Types of travel booking fraud
The report reveals that during a 12 month period, 4,910 cases of holiday booking fraud were reported to Action Fraud. The most common types relate 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 2015, flights to Nigeria, India and Pakistan were particularly targeted, suggesting that fraudsters are going after people planning to visit friends and family.
Sports and religious trips – a popular target for fraud due to limited availability of tickets and consequently higher prices. It is anticipated that in 2016, both the European Football Championships in France and the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will attract fraudsters.
Timeshares and holiday clubs – The sums involved with this form of fraud are particularly high with victims losing between£9,000 and £35,000 each, accounting for 26% of the total reported amounts lost.
Top tips to avoid becoming a travel fraud victim
- Stay safe online: Check the web address is legitimate and has not been altered by slight changes to a domain name – such as going from .co.uk to .org.
- Do your research: Don’t just rely on one review - do a thorough online search to check the company’s credentials. If a company is defrauding people there is a good chance that consumers will post details of their experiences, and warnings about the company.
- Look for the logo: Check whether the company is a member of a recognised trade body such as ABTA. If you have any doubts, you can verify membership of ABTA online.
- Pay safe: Never pay directly into an owner's bank account. Paying by direct bank transfer is like paying by cash – the money is very difficult to trace and is not refundable. Wherever possible, pay by credit card (or a debit card that offers protection).
- Check paperwork: You should study receipts, invoices and terms and conditions, and be very wary of any companies that don’t provide any at all. When booking through a Holiday Club or Timeshare, get the contract thoroughly vetted by a solicitor before signing up.
- Use your instincts: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Report it: If you are a victim contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or by reporting online.
- Get free expert advice: Further advice from Get Safe Online on how to stay safe when booking or researching travel online.
Mark Tanzer, Chief Executive of ABTA, said: “Every year ABTA is contacted by members of the public who have been victims of travel related fraud. The costs to these people are not just financial. They also have to deal with the severe disappointment of holidays or trips to visit loved ones being cancelled at short notice. Fraudsters are always on the lookout for new opportunities, making full use of the internet with clever and unscrupulous scams. ABTA would strongly urge the public to follow the booking advice which we have created in partnership with the City of London Police and Get Safe Online to stop these crooks in their tracks.”
City of London Police Commander Chris Greany, Police National Coordinator for Economic Crime, said: “We live in a world where we are under pressure to get things done quickly. However, when booking a holiday it is vitally important you take your time and follow a number of basic checks designed to protect you from falling victim to a fraud.
“These include researching the name of the company online you are considering using and ensuring it is a member of a recognised trade body. It is also key that you make sure the website is legitimate by carefully checking the domain name and pay with a credit card rather than using a debit card or cash. Follow these guidelines and you should be able to look forward to a happy holiday while at the same time thwarting fraudsters’ increasingly sophisticated efforts to get their hands on money you have put aside to pay for that much needed break. If you do happen to fall victim to a holiday booking fraud you need to report it to Action Fraud so the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau can analyse what has happened, identify potential suspects and refer the case on to a local police force for investigation.”
Tony Neate, CEO of Get Safe Online commented: “Holidays can be the best time of the year, when you can really get away from it all with families, friends or even just by yourself. That makes it even more devastating when you find out that the flights and hotels you booked online were in fact a scam, turning your dream get away into more of a nightmare. There are things you can do to protect yourself when looking to book online. Be your own detective and make sure you do your research, checking reviews or whether the company you are booking with is a member of a recognised trade association. It’s important to bear in mind that a credit card can offer you more protection when buying online than debit cards - if your tickets don’t turn up you’re covered. Also, whenever you go to enter your bank details online make sure there’s a padlock symbol in the browser window, or the webpage address starts with https:// – that means the webpage you’re using is secure.”
To report a fraud and receive a police crime reference number, call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or use our online fraud reporting tool.