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5 Types of Travel and Holiday Fraud and How to Protect Yourself

Travel and holiday scams don’t all fall into one category and there is no single definition for all of them. Travel fraud can be triggered at any time through the holiday process – from buying flight tickets and hotel rooms, to taking a taxi from the airport or paying for a meal in a restaurant.

Last year, fraudsters stole over £7 million from holidaymakers and travellers, according to reports from Action Fraud. This loss averaged out at £1,380 per victim – a huge financial loss as well as the emotional impact of this sort of crime.

This guide will go through the most common holiday and travel scams that you need to be aware of.

Airline Ticket Scams

A very common travel scam is the selling of fake airline tickets by fraudsters.

These scams often start with a cold call to the victim where the scammer pretends to be from an airline or travel agent.

What’s worrying is that, in a lot of cases, the scammer seems to have personal details about the victim and already has information about where they are genuinely looking to go on holiday.

It is suspected that this is because when people have been looking for flight tickets online, they have gone onto one of these scammers’ websites and entered some personal details and contact information. The scammer uses this information to call the customer and offers them a ridiculously low price for flights. If the customer chooses to buy the tickets, then they will ask for them to make a card payment over the phone.

Victims who have reported this scam claim to have received a confirmation email after making payment, but if they tried to make any further contact with the company, they have found them to have completely disappeared and they never received the tickets they paid for.

Other ways this scam occurs are through fraudulent ticket selling websites and phishing emails and text messages.

How to protect yourself from airline ticket scams

Before purchasing any airline tickets online, check for the company’s name on the ABTA and ATOL databases to ensure that they are legitimate and properly authorised.

Also, it is said that the safest way to pay for flights is on a credit card as this method gives you the greatest legal protection if you don’t get what your paid for. Be very cautious about any requests for payment via a bank transfer or wire service as protection over these methods of payment are more limited.

A little common sense also needs to be applied to these scenarios – be aware of unsolicited phone calls or emails of this nature, and if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Hotel booking scams

Another common holiday scam is fake hotel listings and booking websites.

Scammers create fake hotel booking websites and post images of real, luxury hotels and advertise extremely low prices in order to attract customers into booking the hotel.

When somebody books the hotel using the website, the scammer will send them a confirmation email of the booking so everything seems legitimate. In reality, the scammer operating the website steals the money and all the bank details and personal information that the customer entered. Sometimes, the customer isn’t made aware of the scam until they arrive on holiday and realise that the hotel either doesn’t exist at all, or they get to the hotel and realise there is no booking for them.

How to protect yourself from hotel booking scams

The first thing you should do before booking a hotel online is to make sure you are using a secure website – especially if you are planning to enter your personal details and make a payment. Make sure the URL starts with HTTPS (not just HTTP) and that there is a green padlock to the left of it.

Read this article for more information on how to tell if a website is safe and secure.

As with booking flights, it is safer to use a credit to pay for hotel bookings as there is greater legal protection against fraud.

I would also advise to have a search around for the hotel online to see where else it’s being advertised and what prices for. If the website you’re on displays and unreasonably low price, you should definitely be suspicious.

Car hire scams

A lot of foreign car hire companies have been scamming tourists by massively overcharging them for car rental, in the form of hidden costs or large unexpected bills after returning the car.

Some of these scams include;

  • Hidden costs and terms in the small print.
  • High pressure sales tactics to add on extra insurance that you don’t need.
  • Pressure to add on tire and alloy protection, when it comes in the standard insurance anyway.
  • Charging you extra for an unwanted upgrade.
  • Charging you for pre-existing damage.
  • Charging you for fake damage, which you can’t prove as they contact you when you’re already home.
  • Charging you for fuel after claiming the car was returned with the wrong amount of fuel in it.
How to protect yourself from car hire scams

Before you sign any contract with a car hire company, make sure you read through the full terms and conditions very carefully, including all the small print! This way you will be aware of all hidden costs and extras which the company hopes you won’t notice before signing.

If you’re happy with the terms of the contract and choose to sign it, then you must thoroughly check over the car before you drive it away. You should check for any scratches or dents, damage to the tires or alloys, and that the lock is working properly – it may also help to take photographs of anything you spot so you have proof later on if the company tries to charge you for any existing damage. If you notice anything which they haven’t told you about already, make sure it’s added to the documents.

When you return the car at the end of your trip, check over the car again and take more photos of the condition you returned it in so they can’t blame you for any damage that happens later on. Some fraudulent companies damage the cars themselves so they can charge customers.  

Fake event tickets

Fake ticket scams can occur online by booking them ahead of your holiday, or by fake street and kiosk sellers whilst you’re away.

Scammers often target popular events like theatre shows, concerts or sporting events and advertise cheap tickets – alternatively they will be tickets to events which have already sold out, or they’ll be events that don’t even exist which the scammer has made up.

If you buy tickets from a scammer online, you’ll either never receive the tickets and the scammer will disappear with your money and they’re impossible to contact again, or they will send you e-tickets which you are told at the event that they’re fake. Alternatively, you’ll be told by the scammer that a representative will meet you at the event to give you the tickets, but when you get there, no one ever turns up.

If you buy them from a street seller whilst you’re away, it’s likely that they’ll give you physical, authentic looking tickets at the point of purchase, but then you’ll be told at the event that they’re fake and they won’t let you in. When you go back to the seller, you’ll find them to have disappeared.

How to protect yourself from fake ticket scams

If you’re looking to buy event tickets online, ahead of your holiday, then make sure you are purchasing them from an official seller.

Also try to avoid street sellers who use high-pressure, pushy sales tactics to sell you tickets. Even if you’re interested in the event they’re advertising, go directly to the venue and see if the show is genuine and whether you can buy tickets there instead.

Unsecure Wi-Fi hotspots

When you’re away on holiday, no doubt you’ll be looking for where you can hook up to some free Wi-Fi in order to avoid expensive roaming charges.

Fraudsters are aware of this and often set up their own Wi-Fi hotspots in popular tourist locations like hotels, restaurants, and even on buses and trains which advertise Wi-Fi. They will set up the hotspot with an innocent name like ‘free hotel Wi-Fi’ and it won’t require a password to access.

When somebody hooks up to the fake Wi-Fi, the fraudster can see everything they do whilst online, including log-in details to social media accounts or online banking if the victim goes to any of these sites. They will also be able to view your card number if you purchase anything online.

How to protect yourself from fake public Wi-Fi scams

When you get to a location, like your hotel or a café, that advertises that they have free Wi-Fi, go to someone who works there and ask for the exact network name and the password. You can also alert them if you spot any other networks that label themselves as that location’s Wi-Fi.

Another way to protect your data when using public Wi-Fi is to install a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on to your devices. A VPN is a third party server that connects to the internet on your behalf and all of your data will be encrypted before it reaches the Wi-Fi provider. This way, if a scammer is trying to spy on your data, they won’t be able to read it, and they won’t be able to see you as the original source of the data.

Read this article for more information on how to identify and protect yourself from fake public Wi-Fi hotspots.

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