Holiday booking time is here – so beware of scammers
Crime is falling, we’re constantly being told.
Well, no, it’s not – it’s just moved online!
And fraudsters love it when there’s a peak time for buying. Right now, it’s holiday buying.
ABTA, the UK’s travel association, has perviously warned that this year we can expect more online fraud than ever that targets holiday makers.
We all need to be wary of fake websites, online scams and non-compliant travel companies with no financial protection for customers.
Over 30% of holidays are usually booked in Jan and Feb and it’s fair to say that this year, as the pound slides and with an uncertain economic outlook, more of us than ever may be tempted to throw caution aside and go for a too-good-to-be-true offer.
Travel fraud is already up 425% year-on-year and costs holidaymakers £11.5m, say the City of London police. Such fraud not only costs us money, but also the heartbreak of losing out on a well-earned break.
Before you go on holiday, make sure you compare travel insurance deals*. Even the cheapest cover will be a handy safeguard if something goes wrong.
Here’s how you can protect yourself from becoming just another fraud statistic.
1. Businesses not providing financial protection
In 2016 more than 100 travel businesses were found by ABTA to be selling package holidays without having proper financial protection in place, and were referred to the relevant authorities.
All package holidays sold in the UK should include protection, where holidaymakers are not only entitled to a refund or repatriation, should their travel company go out of business, but also other specific legal rights, if there’s a problem.
Don’t take a company’s word that it’s protected by the relevant body, usually ABATA or Atol, go to the organisation’s website and check they are registered.
2. Spotting scam websites
Out and out scams are only too common.
ABTA warns that a legitimate website should have a locked padlock symbol in the browser window frame, which appears when you attempt to log in or register, or the web address should begin with ‘https://’. This means it’s secure.
Also, if in doubt, check the site lists the company’s address and it is registered with Companies House. This at least shows it is an operating company. But also check for online comments and reviews.
We’d also be wary of a site that doesn’t have a phone number.
3. Cloned websites
These are sites that are mirrors of genuine sites. Fraudsters can change the last part of a site’s address, such as from .co.uk to .org.
They are able to produce a convincing-looking website, but with the spelling of the address slightly different from that of the authentic site.
Check web addresses, look for oddly worded sentences, spelling mistakes and even how the ‘company’ deals with you when you phone.
Trust your instinct and make sure your instinct is to be suspicious.
4. How you pay matters most
How you are asked (and agree) to pay is probably the most important part of the process. After all, scammers want your money.
The golden rule is never pay by direct bank transfer. This is a surefire indicator that the outfit you’re dealing with can’t get a deal with a credit card provider, but, even more importantly, it means you have barely any protection if you are the victim of a fraud.
Once the money is transferred, that’s pretty much it. For the best chance of getting your money back, try our tips on what to do if you're scammed online.
Only pay via third parties, such as credit card companies, or facilities like PayPal. Some companies, such as booking.com, have holding accounts where the money you pay only goes to the merchant once you arrive and raise no objection.
This is an added layer of protection.
5 Watch out for the old ‘bait and switch’ routine
This is an out-and-out fraud but very hard to prove.
It involves a shady but legitimate company advertising a hotel, flight or package for an appealing price, which is the bait.
You book it, only to find a little while later that the price has suddenly risen and you’ll have to pay more.
If you agree, you may also find, a little later, that there’s been an ‘overbooking.’ Although, not to worry, you’ll be told, because another hotel, just as good, is available.
Don’t be fooled by this – it’s often the case that the first hotel was never available in the first place, or certainly not at the price advertised.
We suggest you demand your money back and try booking elsewhere.
There's more tips to avoid getting caught out in our guide on avoiding online holiday scams.
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