Nearly 5,000 holidaymakers and other travellers fell victim to “unscrupulous” fraudsters last year, leaving them almost £7m out of pocket - and there are fears the true scale of holiday scams could be significantly higher.
A new report issued by the City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau has revealed around 4,700 people last year (2017) alerted Action Fraud they had been the victim of some kind of travel-related fraud.
More worrying for the industry though are spikes in crime in summer and December, suggesting canny scammers are targeting peak holiday periods when demand is higher and availability limited.
The force, Abta and Get Safe Online also believe the true picture could be even more bleak, with many victims not reporting instances of fraud to police.
Mark Tanzer, Abta chief executive, said: “Abta sees first-hand the damage caused by travel fraudsters with the many devastated customers who contact us for advice after they find out their much anticipated holiday or trip to visit loved ones may not actually exist.
“The cost to them is not just financial; this crime causes very real disappointment and emotional distress. However, this does not need to happen.
“Check and follow the tips and advice on abta.com and you will not fall victim to these unscrupulous individuals. But if you are unlucky enough to do so, always report it to Action Fraud so they can put these crooks out of business.”
The most common types of holiday booking fraud relate to airline tickets (47%) and accommodation (38%) with the average amount lost per person more than £1,500, up 25% year-on-year.
But beyond financial lost, almost half of victims (2,245) said these crimes had a significant impact on their health or overall financial wellbeing, with 575 reporting such a severe impact they had to seek medical treatment or were placed at risk of bankruptcy.
Abta said like previous year, reports of travel fraud increase during summer and December - a “clear indication” fraudsters were targeting peak periods when people are often heading home to see family and friends, knowing customers will be looking for deals when demand is high and availability low.
Individuals travelling to coincide with public or religious holidays are at particular risk, the report revealed. Where destinations are reported, 54% said they were travelling to Africa and 24% to Asia.
Pauline Smith, head of Action Fraud, said: “Holidays are the perfect chance to relax and unwind. However, as this year’s statistics show, they are also an opportunity for fraudsters to trick you out of your hard-earned money.
“We know fraudsters are increasingly using more sophisticated ways to trick their victims, which is why it is important you do your research when making travel arrangements. If you think you have been a victim of fraud, contact Action Fraud.”
The most common types of fraud were:
Tony Neate of Get Safe Online added: “Holidays and trips abroad are one of the biggest purchases we make each year so keep an eye out for tell-tale signs something isn’t quite as it seems.
“It can be quite tempting to get lured in by the offer of a cut price flight or a deal on accommodation when you are caught up in the excitement of booking a holiday.
“Small steps can stop you getting caught out by a holiday scam though such as researching the company you are booking through, especially ones that aren’t mainstream operators.
“Check well known review sites too so you can see what previous customers’ experiences have been and, where possible, pay by credit card to get extra protection in case anything does go wrong.”