As the UK hits the busiest time ofthe year for holiday bookings, experts are warning consumers about the dangersof fraudulent travel company websites and other holiday scams. Abta, the TravelAssociation, has produced a list of warning signs for consumers to look outfor, to help reduce the risk of falling foul of bogus sites.
If a websiteyou are looking at has a combination of the following signs, it may be anindication that it’s not to be trusted …
· Flight or holiday prices that are considerably cheaperthan competitors. Flight prices are largely set by airlines, so although agentshave some leeway in price, if the agent you’re contacting is chargingsignificantly less than everyone else, this could be a sign that something isnot quite right.
· Low resolution, “fuzzy” logos for trade associationsand credit card companies.
· The only payment option is a bank transfer. Not onlyis this an indication that no bank is prepared to provide credit cardfacilities, but if you are dealing with a scammer it will be virtuallyimpossible to get your money back.
· Non-receipt of tickets – constantly being “fobbedoff”.
Abta also advise consumers to do an online searchbefore booking to check the profile of the company. If the company has beendefrauding people, or has a bad reputation, there is a good chance consumerswill have posted details or warnings about the company.
Other advice offered to stay safe when booking onlineis to:
· Check the web address is legitimate and has not beenaltered by slight changes to a domain name, such as going from .co.uk to .org.You can also check the details of the domain name of the website at who.is –when was it registered? Recently could indicate an issue, while if the addressis anonymous and information about the person or organisation that registeredit cannot be viewed that could also be a warning sign.
· Check whether the company is a member of a recognisedtrade body such as Abta or Atol. You can verify membership of Abta online atabta.com.
· Check the paperwork – you should study receipts,invoices and terms and conditions, and be wary of companies that don’t provideany.
· Use your instincts; if something sounds too good to betrue, it probably is.
Holiday fraud led to an estimated £7m being stolen fromconsumers in 2014, according to a report released by the City of London PoliceNational Fraud Intelligence Bureau in April, with £2.2m lost to online scams.The average loss to the individual was £889, while one individual lost £62,000in a fraud relating to timeshare.
The report also detailed the emotional toll for victims: onethird said the fraud had a substantial impact on their health as well as theirfinancial well-being, while 167 were affected so badly they had to receivemedical treatment.
According to the report, the most common types of fraudrelated to holidayaccommodation, in which fraudsters set up fake websites and posted fake adsonline, as well as fake airline bookings and bookings related to high-profilesport and religious trips, such as the World Cup or Hajj.
Stuart Fuller, director of commercial operations at onlinebrand protection company NetNames, said professional-looking websites can beset up easily, using rudimentary coding skills. Fraudsters can also leave fakeonline reviews on sites such as Tripadvisor to help exploit the trust ofconsumers.
“Unfortunately, often victims do not discover they have beenduped until arriving at the airport or hotel only to find there is no booking,”he said.
John de Vial, head of financial protection at ABTA said: “Ourconsumer helpline has seen an increase in calls from members of the public whoare either checking the validity of a suspicious website or, worse, havealready paid by bank transfer and then been fobbed off when trying to get holdof their tickets. We want to make consumersaware of this problem and stop them from being ripped off in this way.”