READY to jet off on hols? Check you have not been scammed. Rising numbers of us are being fleeced by fraudsters advertising bogus flight tickets and holiday rentals.
Last year more than 5,000 victims lost over £7million — up from £6.7million in 2017. The average loss per person was £1,380. In the worst cases, families flew abroad to find their dream holiday was all a con. Today, Sun Money looks at the most common tricks and what to look out for.
MORE than half of travel scams relate to bogus airline tickets, says Action Fraud, the national reporting service for fraud and financial cyber crime. Fraudsters advertise competitive long-haul fares worth hundreds of pounds on fake websites.
Often these are made up but in some cases real tickets are bought with stolen credit cards, then sold on to unsuspecting passengers with a reference number. The tickets are cancelled when the card is reported stolen, so victims are left with nothing.
Retired couple Barry and Christine McCarthy, of Stourport-on-Severn, Worcs, paid £550 for two return flights to Bangkok, to a firm called madovertickets.com. The website looked slick and professional and Barry, 69, spoke to an agent before transferring the money. But the firm later refused to answer his calls.
Barry, who holidays in Thailand with Christine, 67, every year, said: “Our bank said we couldn’t have a refund because we made the payment voluntarily. We now only use travel firms we’ve heard of.” The site has now disappeared.
ADVERTS for stunning villas and apartments may not be what they seem. Conmen often steal other people’s photos and post them on bogus websites or mainstream sites such as Airbnb and HomeAway.
When people enquire, they send them a link to a convincing payment page, where they are encouraged to transfer money. One trick is to pretend a credit card payment has not gone through, then ask for a bank transfer instead. Or they may ask for a bank transfer to avoid commission fees.
Author Angus Kennedy, 54, and wife Sophie, 43, from Maidstone, Kent, were conned out of £2,600 when they tried to book a seven-bed villa in Majorca on dreamvillasspain.com. The couple and their five kids, aged seven to 19, had, through the site, arranged a taxi from the airport. But it failed to turn up.
They had also been given a fake address for the villa, but managed to find it because a local taxi driver recognised the house in the promotional photos and took them to it.
When they arrived, the owner knew nothing of their booking. They then had to spend a further £2,500 on accommodation for their trip. Angus said: “We were left sitting on a wall with nowhere to go and my wife in tears.” Dreamvillasspain.com is still operating. It did not respond to our request for a comment.
EVEN with genuine listings, you may end up speaking to scammers and should never vary from official payment procedures. This happened to Talia Tester, 30, and Rachel Smith, 29, from Brighton, who were organising a hen do in Marbella for pal Anna Harris, 29.
They saw a villa on the HomeAway site – and confirmed it was available with the owner. But Talia claims they were sent a message via the site’s official service by a fraudster who had hacked the owner’s account. He asked them to email him instead.
She agreed over email to transfer a £2,300 deposit but realised the scam when she rang the real owner to ask if he had received payment. HomeAway will not refund the cash, as the payment was made off-site. Talia said: “You never think something like this will ever happen.”
SCAMMERS also advertise on social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp and often contact victims with bogus deals. Retired NHS manager Pam Kolasa, from Burton upon Trent, Staffs, was targeted when she asked a local Facebook caravanning group for a short-term rental last summer.
One man offered her a few days’ hire of a two-bed caravan parked in Coral Beach, Skegness, for £250. Pam, 64, said: “He sent me photos and answered all my questions, and sent me a screenshot of a list of owners with his name on. It all seemed OK.”
She transferred the money but started to worry when she asked the man if the caravan was also available to hire the following week for her partner’s son.
When the rogue told her it was, alarm bells started to ring as it was the school holidays when normally everything is booked up. She later realised his Facebook identity was fake and he didn’t own the vehicle. The scammer disappeared with her money – which her bank NatWest has refused to refund.
Pam, who this summer went on holiday to Butlin’s, said: “I didn’t realise these scams were such big business operating on such a big scale. They’re taking people’s hard-earned cash.”
- Look out for firms which are cheaper than everything else, have unlimited availability and insist on bank transfers. All three are warning signs of scams.
- 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.
- Be suspicious if there is an urgency to secure your booking immediately.
- Make sure any travel agent you use is a member of Abta (the Association of British Travel Agents).
- Never pay by bank transfer or click on a website payment link sent by email. Always use the official payment processes.
- When looking for a villa, right-click on property images and choose “search Google for image”. You’ll see if it’s being used fraudulently to advertise other properties.
- Use Google Maps Street View to see whether the property is really there.
- Have you been ripped off or scammed? Email your money worries to email@example.com.