ABTA Report reveals fraudsters conning travellers out of £2.2 million a year
"Millions lost - online bookings a particular target”
ABTA, The City of London Police and Get Safe Online have re-joined forces to warn the general public about the dangers posed by holiday booking fraud. Findings from a new report compiled by the City of London Police reveal the scale of reported crime and expose common tactics used by fraudsters who stole an estimated £2.2million from unsuspecting holidaymakers and other travellers in 2014.
According to the report compiled by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) section of the City of London Police, the most common type of crime involved fraudsters hacking into the accounts of owners on well-known accommodation sites or spoofing these websites with convincing bogus imitations. Disappointed holidaymakers found the villas and apartments they thought they had booked and paid for were non-existent or had never been booked.
UK caravan stays were also targeted with adverts for non-existent accommodation posted on Facebook, Gumtree and Craigslist.
Due to the nature of the crime, losses to the individual can be substantial with the average loss being £889. In one single case a member of the public lost £62,000 in a fraud relating to timeshare. Losses are not just financial, with a third of victims saying that the fraud had a substantial impact on their health as well as their financial well-being. 167 victims reported that the impact of the crime was so severe that they had had to receive medical treatment.
There are spikes of reported fraud in the summer months and in December which paint a very clear picture of disappointed holidaymakers and ruined trips to visit loved ones for Christmas. The age group most commonly targeted are those aged 30-49, many of whom will be families. The majority of those who had been defrauded paid by methods such as bank transfer or cash with no means of getting their money back. Only a small proportion paid by credit or debit card where some form of redress is available to get your money back.
The 2014 report reveals that during a 12 month period 1,569 cases of holiday booking fraud were reported to the force’s Action Fraud. The most common types relate to:
- Holiday Accommodation - Fraudsters are making full use of the internet to con would-be 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. Flights to West Africa are a particular target.
- Sports and religious trips - Often an attractive target due to limited availability and consequent higher prices. In 2014 the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and World Cup in Brazil were targeted with numerous people having paid for non –existent accommodation or tickets. Religious trips to the Hajj in Saudi Arabia were once again targeted with high losses for pilgrims.
- Holiday clubs - Victims were offered "free” holidays to entice them into attending a seminar where they were duped into buying a fraudulent timeshare.
The City of London Police, ABTA and Get Safe Online have published advice on how to avoid becoming a victim of holiday booking fraud – and on how victims should go about reporting it, including the top tips below:
- 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. You can verify membership of ABTA online, at www.abta.com.
- Pay safe - Never pay directly into an owner's bank account. Paying by direct bank transfer is like paying by cash – the money cannot be traced and is not refundable. Where 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.
- Use your instincts - If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Report it - victims should contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or via www.actionfraud.police.uk.
For a full list of tips to avoid becoming a victim of fraud please see: http://abta.com/fraud
Mark Tanzer, ABTA Chief Executive, said: "Holiday fraud is a particularly distressing form of fraud as the loss to the victim is not just financial but it can also have a high emotional impact. Many victims are unable to get away on a long awaited holiday or visit to loved ones and the financial loss is accompanied by a personal loss. Every year we are contacted by members of the public who have been the victims of fraudsters, the majority through online scams. We urge travellers to follow the tips that we have put together in partnership with the Police and Get Safe Online to stop travel fraudsters in their tracks. We would also encourage anyone who has been the victim of a travel related fraud to report it to Action Fraud so that the police can build up a case, catch the perpetrators and prevent other unsuspecting people from falling victim.”
Detective Chief Superintendent Dave Clark, the City of London Police Head of the Economic Crime, said: "The internet has revolutionised the way we look for and book our holidays.
"The unfortunate reality is that it is also being exploited by fraudsters who use online offers of accommodation and flights that do not exist or promising bookings that are never made to rip off unsuspecting holidaymakers.
"The nature and scale of holiday fraud means police action alone can only be part of the solution to this problem. Online shoppers must be vigilant and conduct all the necessary checks before booking a break to ensure the conmen are kept at bay.
"I would also urge anyone who has fallen victim to a holiday fraud to contact Action Fraud. Doing this will help the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau to identify and target those most responsible for this harmful and upsetting crime.”
Tony Neate, CEO, Get Safe Online said: ""A Holiday is often the most expensive thing people will purchase in a given year. So, take your time and do as much research as you can to check the provider is safe. It is often much easier to find proof a company is legitimate than evidence they are fraudulent. Look for confirmation from others who were happy with the service, call the vendor, and only make payment arrangements once you feel as confident as possible they are legitimate. Most importantly, never transfer directly into bank accounts. None of these scams will work unless you hand over your money!"
"Using contact details in a newspaper, I paid 1200 UK pounds for a return ticket to Los Angeles. The agent assured me that the duration of my stay was within the ESTA visa requirements. Upon the end of my stay at the airport my ticket was revoked and I was told that the ticket was paid for with a stolen credit card. My bank to bank transfer of 1200 was stolen by these crooks and I was left stranded in America. I then had to pay over 500 dollars for a return flight. When I emailed and called the agent, there was no reply to my emails and they have totally disappeared with my money.”
"I found a property to rent in Cornwall over the New Year period on the owner’s website. I called to ask if the house was still for rent and would she accept £1000, she confirmed on email that it was fine but could we complete and sign a contract. We were asked to pay £1500 in total, which included a £500 refundable deposit. We then received instructions to complete a bank transfer, which we did the following morning on 23rd December. Alison replied confirming she received payment. On the 28 December we drove 5 hours to our booked holiday home in Cornwall, but on arrival it was clear something was wrong as there was another family in the house. After 2 hours of investigating it became clear that someone had hacked in to the home owners account on the owners direct website and replaced ALL details with their own - there was no way we could have known that we weren't dealing with the real Alison Nicholson. Our bank was unable to reclaim any of the money that we transferred. We were absolutely devastated by this fraud and it's been a very upsetting situation for the whole family of 8 who were booked in to this house for that week”
"I was looking for an apartment in Istanbul with my parents and daughter. I found one I liked. I contacted the owner by email. We negotiated a transaction. He referred me to his booking agent. I gave the additional information they requested. The price was £2500. I transferred to their account. The website of the company is now gone. The listing on holiday lettings is gone. There is no reply from the emails. There is no apartment. I hope you can find this person through their account and get me my money back”