Fraudsters stole more than £7 million from unsuspecting holidaymakers and other travellers in 2018, a new report reveals.
More than 5,000 people lost out last year, losing an average £1,380. This compares to 2017 when 4,382 victims lost £6.7 million. Figures were compiled by Action Fraud and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, with Abta being a campaign partner. Abta says the actual figures “may be even higher, with many victims feeling too embarrassed to report”.
The greatest proportion of crimes – 53% - related to the sale of airline tickets. Reports were made consistently throughout the year, however the largest individual monthly loss, of over £425,000, was made in August 2018.
The next most common fraud, at 25%, related to the sale of accommodation, with a peak in reported losses in October. This indicates many victims report their loss after the end of the summer holidays, the busiest time of the year for travel and a popular target for fraudsters.
Mark Tanzer, Abta chief executive, said: “Abta sees at first-hand the damage caused by travel fraudsters after customers find out their much anticipated holiday or trip to visit family and friends does not actually exist. This is why Abta, Action Fraud and Get Safe Online work together to make people aware of the steps they can take to avoid falling foul of a holiday scam.
“The cost to victims is not just financial; this crime causes very real emotional distress. Fraudsters are using increasingly sophisticated methods to target destinations and times of year when demand is high and availability limited, as they know people will be looking for good deals.”
The report highlights key areas of concern, with airline ticket fraud particularly targeting the VFR market to Africa and India. The campaign partners believe fraudsters may be exploiting lack of knowledge of UK regulations governing the ticket sales.
Accommodation fraud is becoming “increasingly sophisticated”, with “very professional and convincing websites” offering upmarket villas for rent. Although some properties are fictitious, many actually exist, offered by fraudsters without the legitimate owner’s knowledge. Spain and France are the destinations most commonly targeted.
A third area is religious pilgrimages, with Haj trips particularly attractive to fraudsters, with the average loss totalling almost £10,000 per reported case.
Tony Neate of Get Safe Online advised: “Look out for companies that are members of professional bodies such as Abta and be wary of paying a private individual by bank transfer, even if you are offered a discounted rate.
“Paying by credit card will offer you much more protection from fraud. Finally, trust your instincts, don’t get rushed into making impulsive decisions if something doesn’t feel quite right.”