Holidaymakers are at risk of losing thousands of pounds to scammers, as criminals at home and abroad prepare to take advantage of the return of international travel.
Trade body UK Finance is warning jet-setters to watch out for ticketing, travel and health insurance scams, as they begin booking much-needed breaks after two years of Covid restrictions.
It said sophisticated phishing and fake social media adverts were on the rise as Britons begin hunting for holiday deals, while new street scams could take unsuspecting travellers by surprise in popular tourist destinations.
This is Money rounds up all of the holiday scams you should know about, and what to do if you think you’re a victim of holiday fraud. If you’re in Sydney, be sure to rely on the most trustworthy yacht rental Sydney harbour has to offer.
Scams are common when travelling abroad or purchasing online, but there are steps you can take to ensure you aren’t a victim of fraud when jetting off on your summer holiday
What scams should I look out for when booking a holiday?
Holidays are some of the most expensive purchases we make, so unfortunately there are always fraudsters looking to cash in.
However, knowing what to look out for could protect your cash and make sure your trip abroad doesn’t involve any nasty surprises.
1. Fake flight or hotel websites
This is where scammers set up fake websites offering tantalising deals on flights, accommodation or travel insurance.
Customers might end up paying them directly for bogus services, or they might use the site to harvest personal information which they can then use to impersonate them.
For example, they might offer a fake villa to rent at a discounted price – but then ask for a deposit which is never returned.
Other sites offer fake insurance cover, which can leave travellers unprotected should the worst happen when they are abroad.
Some websites will spoof those of genuine organisations, so it is important to check the URL of the site you are using.
2. Comparison site scam
Fraudsters may also try to tempt holidaymakers away from legitimate booking or price comparison sites, with adverts promising a cheaper deal on the flight or hotel they are about to book.
Some of these can appear embedded in the website pages, but some may appear as pop-ups.
If this new site asks for payment via bank transfer rather than asking for your card details as normal, it’s most likely a scam.
The customer may receive a phone call about their booking, asking for payment via bank transfer or for your bank details.
You should never give away your payment details to someone you don’t know.
Hang up: Holiday bookers should not pass 7on any personal or financial information to a cold caller, even if they seem legitimate
3. Cancellation refund fraud
Scams don’t always occur when booking your holiday. Some fraudsters may send out phishing emails advising people how to claim refunds, perhaps for trips that have been cancelled due to Covid.
These will contain links to fake websites that are used to steal personal and financial information, or to infect their phone or computer with malware.
These emails may appear to be from airlines, banks, travel providers or other trusted organisations, often using official branding to convince them they are genuine.
People may also receive a call from someone pretending to be a ‘refund agent’ from a travel firm or bank, claiming they can get them an immediate refund if they provide their bank details.
Take five to stop fraud
Take Five is a national campaign to help people avoid becoming victims of scams. It offers the following advice for consumers when making purchases
1. Consider your options
Be suspicious of any ‘too good to be true’ offers or prices – if it’s at a rock bottom price ask yourself why
2. Do your research
Before making any purchases read the reviews to verify that the company or address exists before booking
3. Book directly
Opt for established accommodation or book through a reputable travel company that is a member of a trade body such as ABTA or ATOL
4. Read the terms and conditions
Double-check both your travel and accommodation information to ensure you know what you are paying for
5. Use the secure payment options
Where possible, use a credit card when making purchases over £100 as you receive protection under Section 75 of the Credit Consumer Act
They may also be asked to pay an upfront fee for handling refund claims – something that a legitimate company would not ask for.
Once the bank details have been shared, the victim will not receive their refund and the criminal will have access to their money.
4. Social media scams
Criminals can create fake social media accounts imitating those of real organisations, often claiming to be able to assist with refunds.
The links contained in the posts divert them to fake websites that require personal and financial information in order to proceed.
However, once their details are entered they will fail to receive any help and could subsequently become the victim of a scam.
5. Phony PCR tests
A newer form of scamming since the start of the pandemic is through PCR testing.
PCR tests when leaving or returning to the UK have now been scrapped, although some countries may still require one to gain entry.
If you are being told you need to take one, be sure to check with your travel provider.
Covid-related scams have been on the rise, with fake websites designed to trick you into purchasing fake international vaccination passes and PCR tests
Travellers have complained about fake websites scamming them when trying to arrange for a PCR test or a vaccination pass in the past, so it is always worth checking that the provider you use is legitimate.
6. Paying for a free GHIC card
When travelling in the EU, people can access emergency and medical care with a Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC).
The card recently replaced the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
There is no charge to get a GHIC card, but some websites have been set up that offer to get holidaymakers a card in exchange for a fee.
They are often advertised on fake websites looking similar to the NHS, claiming to fast-track or manage the application process.
UK Finance’s top tips for avoiding holiday booking scams
Staying vigilant when booking your summer holiday is the best way to avoid being scammed.
Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, said: ‘Criminals have been capitalising on the pandemic to commit fraud, and the easing of lockdown restrictions provides another opportunity for them to target victims.
‘As you start booking holidays and planning social activities, don’t let criminals take you for a ride.
‘Follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign and always visit websites you’re buying from by typing it in to the web browser – avoid clicking on links in unsolicited emails or text messages.
‘Be wary of any requests to pay by bank transfer when buying or booking services online, and instead use a credit card or the secure payment options recommended by reputable websites.’
Before paying a for anything online, check the legitimacy of the web address and ensure the URL starts with ‘https://’, rather than ‘http://’. Misspellings, additional words, or low-resolution logos could also be indicators of a fraudulent website.
Never agree to a bank transfer unless you absolutely trust the provider, or pay by credit card for more protection.
What scams should I look out for when I’m on holiday?
Once travellers have jetted off and arrived in their holiday destination, there are a number of common scams they should keep an eye out for.
7. Taxi scams
Holidaymakers who hop in a taxi cab without booking beforehand run the risk of getting caught by the ‘broken taxi meter’ trick.
The driver will take them to their destination, possibly in a very indirect manner.
When they arrive, they will claim their meter is broken and ask for an outrageous amount of money.
Be sure to pre-book taxis where possible abroad, use your own satnav, and only use legitimate taxi cabs when travelling abroad to ensure fake drivers don’t con you out of your cash
Unfortunately, as there is no proof of how much the journey would have cost, you could be stuck paying for the overpriced taxi fare.
Worobec advises: ‘Always call for a licensed taxi or if you are traveling by tuk-tuk, ask your accommodation if they have a preferred driver. And remember, you can use your phone’s map if you suspect the driver is taking a less direct route.
‘Avoid getting into unlicensed taxis, no matter how cheap the fare seems to be, as in some parts of the world it can be the starting point for a kidnapping.’
Additionally, some taxi drivers may try to convince tourists to visit a different attraction or dine at a different restaurant, perhaps offering them a cut-price deal or claiming that the place they want to go is closed.
They may persuade them to take trip or meal that should be cheaper, but charge the same price as they would have paid at their original destination – often colluding with their friends or family who run the attraction.
Be firm but polite about where you want to go, and get out of the car if they still don’t want to take you.
8. Dodgy excursions
When booking excursions, you should ensure you are booked with a legitimate provider, to avoid getting scammed by a dodgy operator.
Unregistered or independent operators can offer huge discounts on excursions to tourist spots, asking customers to pay a deposit via cash or bank transfer.
They will then find the excursion doesn’t exist, or has been cancelled.
Do your research, check reviews and book through reputable websites and operators.
Another common trick is to claim that a tourist has broken something they rented, and needs to pay to repair it.
Whether it’s a jet ski in Thailand or a scooter in Mykonos, the old scam is universal.
Before hiring any vehicle or equipment, inspect it and take photos of the existing damage, showing the hire operator.
9. Pickpockets (and the bird poo scam)
Pickpockets are renowned during summer months in busy tourist spots around the world, but they are always coming up with new and inventive ways to get their hands on people’s cards and cash.
The newest is the ‘bird poo’ scam, where the crook spills a bird poo-like substance on a holidaymaker and then points it out, offering to help clean it.
Either the ‘good Samaritan’ or an accomplice will then pat the tourist down and take any valuable items off their person, once they are sufficiently distracted.
Other ways pickpockets may try and distract travellers is by getting local kids to approach them, getting someone to pretend they have fallen over and need help, or even by throwing a cat or a fake baby at them.
Be extra vigilant and trust your gut if something doesn’t feel right.
Says Worobec: ‘Keep your eyes peeled in busy tourist areas for pickpockets and avoid any situation where strangers may move you to a second location, or try to distract you.’
Pickpockets are fairly common when travelling, but you can protect yourself by keeping your belongings close, not carrying anything too valuable, and staying vigilant when out-and-about
10. Magic tricks or cup and ball
A common street scam known by most is the classic three-card monte, which can also be played out as a cup and ball game.
The street magician will hold up three cards for everyone to see – two black and one red.
The job of the victim is to put money down on whichever card they think is the red one after the performer has ‘shuffled’ them.
The magician will often have an accomplice in the crowd to help them make away with your cash.
Sometimes, a second man may shout ‘Police!’ at a convenient time to clear out the crowd, allowing the magician to run off with the money.
In all of this chaos, there is also a good chance the second man has been pickpocketing the audience, so be sure to stay vigilant at all times.
11. Short-change scam
Another street-based scam involves switching notes to either short-change someone or claim they haven’t paid enough – relying on the fact that tourists may not be familiar with the foreign currency.
A shop keeper or taxi driver might give a customer less change than they were supposed to get, or switch a 50 note for a 5 note and claim they haven’t given them enough.
Be sure to check your change before you leave and don’t let them rush you during the process.
Check the change: Some scammers may try to trick tourists by switching around notes
12. Pretend police
Finally, another common scam is fake police, sometimes dressed in uniform, demanding that holidaymakers pay a fine or hand over their passport.
Most of the time they will issue a fine for no good reason that needs to be paid on the spot. As victims don’t want to get in trouble, they usually end up paying.
They may also hand over their passport, driving licence or ID card, which the scammer can sell or use to forge their identity.
Real police may ask to see your personal ID, but won’t ever ask you to pay a fine on the spot. If you are approached by someone looking official, show them your ID but never give it to them.
Ask for their ID too. If they issue you with a fine, tell them you will go to the police station to deal with the matter. The fake ones will usually hightail out of there.
What do I do if I think I have been scammed?
If you have been the victim of an online scam, or you suspect a company of being fraudulent, you can report it by contacting the police, your bank and Action Fraud.
Collect all the relevant information, including who you’ve been in contact with, why you’re suspicious, what information you’ve shared, whether you’ve paid any money, and when and how you’ve paid.
If you report the scam to Action Fraud, you will receive a crime reference number which can help your bank and may even help you retrieve the stolen funds.
You should also report it to Citizens Advice, who pass on information to Trading Standards, which can increase the chance of scammers being caught and stopped.
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