Holidaymakers and other travellers were conned out of £11.5 million last year, according to a new report from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB).
The 2015 figure represents a 425 per cent rise on the previous year, when the amount reported lost to fraudsters was £2.2m - although part of the increase is likely due to better reporting of the crime.
In 2015, 4,910 cases of holiday booking fraud were reported to Action Fraud. The most common type related to airline tickets, with accommodation scams and timeshare/holiday clubs also used to defraud travellers.
In the most common incidents, victims paid for flights only to be sent fake tickets or to receive no tickets at all. In 2015, flights to Nigeria, India and Pakistan were particularly targeted, suggesting that fraudsters are going after people planning to visit friends and family.
Fraudsters are also setting up fake accommodation websites or hacking into legitimate ones to con customers, along with running dodgy timeshare and holiday club operations.
Those looking to attend big-ticket sporting events are also being targeted, due to the high demand and scarcity of tickets. Major events this year such as the European Football Championships in France and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro are expected to attract a wealth of con artists.
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of ABTA, said: “Every year ABTA is contacted by members of the public who have been victims of travel related fraud. The costs to these people are not just financial. They also have to deal with the severe disappointment of holidays or trips to visit loved ones being cancelled at short notice. Fraudsters are always on the lookout for new opportunities, making full use of the internet with clever and unscrupulous scams.”
Losses to the individual can be substantial with the average loss being almost £3,000. Losses are not just financial, with almost half of victims (44 per cent) saying that the fraud had also had a significant impact on their health.
The age group most commonly targeted is those aged 30-49. The majority of those who are defrauded pay by methods such as bank transfer or cash with no means of getting their money back.
Chris Greany, police national coordinator for economic crime, said: “We live in a world where we are under pressure to get things done quickly. However, when booking a holiday it is vitally important you take your time and follow a number of basic checks designed to protect you from falling victim to a fraud.”
Top tips to avoid becoming a travel fraud victim
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. If you have any doubts, you can verify membership of ABTA online.
Pay safe: Never pay directly into an owner's bank account. Paying by direct bank transfer is like paying by cash – the money is very difficult to trace and is not refundable. Wherever 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. When booking through a Holiday Club or Timeshare, get the contract thoroughly vetted by a solicitor before signing up.
Use your instincts: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.