Holiday Scam

Last year the City of London Police's National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) estimated that UK holidaymakers were conned out of £7m by fraudsters.  With our thoughts now turning to planning our summer holidays it looks like this year will be no different.  Their recent report suggests that nearly a third of this figure relates to Internet-based scams, including fraudsters setting up copy-cat websites using cyber or typosquatted domain names with the sole aim of lining their own pockets. Some may not find out they have been duped until they arrive at the airport or hotel only to find there is no booking.

Some cyber criminals take their deception to multiple layers. There have been cases for fraudsters setting up fake conference websites, offering a one-stop-shop of deceit including flights, hotels, transfers, travel insurance and the conference itself.  All it takes to set up a credible looking copy-cat website are some relatively rudimentary coding skills and an authentic looking domain name.

Websites such as TripAdvisor are now as essential to holiday planning as buying your new beachwear.  More than 315 million unique users visit TripAdvisor every month to read the 200 million plus reviews published, or upload something new at a rate of 60 new contributions per minute. In an article published in the Business Traveller magazine, you can see why online brand reputation is still a major concern for any business listed on TripAdvisor. The magazine referenced a study from 2012 carried out by Cornell University into the impact of social media on Lodging Performance.  They discovered that a hotel that can raise its feedback score by one full mark (out of five), could expect to raise its prices by over 11% and not have any impact on its margins or occupancy rate! In other words, for those establishments that showed the greatest improvements, price was truly inelastic.

But it is also possible for listings to be manipulated.  Bogus reviews or even fake hotels may find their way onto the website - there is only so much that review sites can do to verify all of the details.  Consumers are trusting of reviews and could therefore be duped into making a booking based on false information.

The report, published in conjunction with the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) reveals there were 1,569 cases of holiday booking fraud reported to the police last year, with one holidaymaker losing £62,000 in a scam relating to a bogus timeshare scheme.

With the 2015 Rugby World Cup just a few months away, consumers are advised to be vigilant of deals for accommodation and travel that appear too good to be true, especially if they include hard to come by tickets to some of the sold out games.  Next year, the European Football Championships will be held in France, with travel packages already on sale on some internet sites. Demand for tickets, especially with our home nations likely to be making the short trip across the English Channel, is guaranteed to far outstrip supply, whilst accommodation and travel options already being booked by savvy fans.  Those who leave it too late could well become the victims of the fraudsters, desperate to secure their travel at any cost.

Detective Chief Superintendent Dave Clark, the City of London Police head of economic crime, said: “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.”

Three simple steps can help protect consumers when planning their holidays online.

  1. Shop around - if one particular website that isn't one of the big travel companies is offering a deal much lower than the rest then think twice.  If it looks too good to be true, it probably is!

  2. Unless you have 100% verified who you are dealing with, do not pay for your holiday by bank transfer, Western Union or cash.  Use your credit or debit card that at least offers a level of consumer protection.

  3. Only use websites that have a verified identity.  If you are required to hand over personal details or credit card numbers unless you are in a website protected by SSL (look for a green browser bar or the padlock to left of the web address). Take 30 seconds to check the details of the domain name of the website at - when was it registered? Recently could indicate an issue, whilst hidden details should also set alarm bells ringing.

Don't let the cyber criminals ruin your summer holiday before you've taken your first beach selfie!