Internet scammers con British holidaymakers out of £2.2m

Holiday generic
Image caption Holidaymakers have been urged to be cautious when booking holidays over the internet

British holidaymakers were conned out of £2.2m last year through internet-based scams, a report has shown.

Criminal groups have targeted online booking firms in order to swindle money from unsuspecting customers.

Many only discover they have been duped when they arrive at their accommodation and find no booking has been made.

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.

'High emotional impact'

Travel association ABTA, police and Get Safe Online, the UK's national internet security awareness initiative service, have joined forces to urge potential fraud victims to exercise caution when booking a holiday over the internet following the report from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau.

The report reveals there were 1,569 cases of holiday booking fraud reported to the police's ActionFraud team last year, with one person losing £62,000 in a scam relating to a bogus timeshare scheme.

A third of victims said the fraud had a substantial impact on their health as well as their financial wellbeing and 167 victims said the impact of the crime was so severe they needed medical treatment.

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."

Vigilance needed

Those most commonly targeted are aged 30-49, with spikes of reported fraud in the summer months and in December.

Only a small proportion of those who were defrauded paid by credit or debit card, where some form of redress is available.

The most common types relate to fake plane tickets, hacking accounts, bogus adverts online, and websites.

Sports and religious trips have often been particularly targeted because of the limited availability of accommodation and tickets and consequent higher prices, according to the study.

Image copyright Science Photo Library

'He started to accept bookings and was actually quite abusive'

Philippa Farrow, who rents out her house in Umbria, Italy, said it's not just customers who can suffer.

She explained that scammers often initiate contact with home owners, asking them "plausible questions" about matters such as availability.

"The scammer who caught me did this and then sent me a document with a list of the party's names which I unwittingly opened," said Miss Farrow, from Oxford.

"This enabled him to hack into my email account and set up a filter so all enquiries from the websites my property was listed on were diverted to his email account.

"He then started to accept bookings and was actually quite abusive to the people he was corresponding with.

"It was only because I was able to see the conversation trail that I could catch him out - just before he was about to get two large deposits worth thousands from the US and Australia."

Miss Farrow, who contacted the customers involved to warn them what was happening, added: "I don't think I lost credibility but it is worrying what happened."

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.

In another case, a family travelled for five hours for a week-long break in Cornwall - at a cost of £1,500 - only to find the website had been hacked and the bank details altered, meaning they were unable to use the accommodation or retrieve the money.

Det Ch Supt 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."

Related Topics

More on this story