If you’re about to book your summer holiday, beware of falling victim to fraudsters, as huge numbers of people are targeted every year by fake hotel and flight adverts.

The Chartered Trading Standard Institute (CTSI) is warning holidaymakers that scammers are using “increasingly sophisticated and convincing ways” to con them into paying for breaks that often don’t exist. They use a range of tricks to persuade their victims to give them money and personal information, including emails, texts and phone calls as well as fake social media listings and online adverts.

Katherine Hart, CTSI lead officer said: “Lots of people are preparing to go away at the moment and unfortunately there are a lot of adverts on social media advertising cottages and hotels at home and abroad with incredible pictures and fantastic prices. These bogus adverts are designed to steal our money, leaving us disappointed and without a holiday.
“As with any purchase, do your research, only shop with reputable companies, and make sure you are 100% sure who you are dealing with and what you are getting before you part with any money.”
The government has recently pledged it will do more to tackle fraud, as scammers are constantly coming up with new ways to part people with their cash. Read more in our article Types of scam and how to avoid them and Don’t let scammers steal your retirement.

Here’s our rundown of some of the holiday booking scams you should watch out for, and how to avoid them when booking your next trip.

Fake social media adverts offering cheap deals

Holiday booking scams often start with fake online adverts on social media. If you spot adverts on Facebook or Twitter, for example, offering extremely cheap deals for flights or a holiday that appear too good to be true, then you should probably be suspicious. Bear in mind that flight prices are usually fixed by airlines, so if a flight from the same airline is marketed at a substantially lower price, it’s often a sign that the offer is a scam. Similarly, be careful of emails targeting previous customers of airlines and holiday firms that are offering attractive deals. 

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Scam texts and messages

Fraudsters can also send offers by Whatsapp or text, or email. Again, these usually appear to be from a real company, with a deal on a holiday, flight, or hotel that is much more competitive than those you can find elsewhere. 

The aim is to direct you to a fake website designed to part you from your money, so make sure you’re on your guard when buying a holiday or flight online. These sites usually appear official, but risk you paying for a holiday that doesn’t exist. Alternatively, a fake website may download a virus onto your computer with the aim of stealing your bank details or other personal information.

Fraudulent accommodation listings

Popular holiday accommodation booking websites such as Airbnb or Holiday Lettings are sometimes used by fraudsters who post fake listings for apartments or villas that don’t exist. Sometimes they involved fraudsters advertising properties for rent without the owner’s knowledge, then seeking direct payment from site users. 

Accommodation listings with the host’s supposed email or phone number are one of the easiest ways to spot a potential scam. Sites usually ban direct contact outside of their internal systems to protect users and their commission.

Fake caravan and motorhome listings

One of the most common scams during the coronavirus pandemic was fake caravan, holiday home or camper van listings on social media or other free ad websites. When users enquire about available dates and rental prices, the owner asks for a deposit to be paid quickly, and directly to them. 

They are usually advertised at attractive prices, meaning that people believe they are getting a great deal, but when they come to take their trip, they then find the vehicle doesn’t exist. During the pandemic, buyers were told they couldn’t view the vehicles due to lockdown restrictions, with payment requested by bank transfer, which offers no protection if things go wrong. 

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‘Free’ holiday offers

If you’re offered a free holiday, this should immediately ring warning bells. According to consumer association Which? thousands of victims of timeshare scams were offered ‘free’ holidays to entice them into signing up for timeshare deals that they often couldn’t afford.

Before you commit to any holiday offer, make sure you read the terms and conditions carefully, and be very wary of any company that doesn’t provide these at all, it says. If you’re considering a holiday club or timeshare, get any contracts checked by a solicitor before signing up. Remember that timeshare agreements are usually a fairly long-term commitment, but they can be subject to high pressure sales tactics and may be very difficult to get out of. 

How to protect yourself from holiday scams

There are a number of ways to reduce your chances of falling victim to fraud when you’re booking a holiday.

John Herriman, chief executive of the CTSI said: “People work hard and save all year round for their holidays – scammers know this, but they don’t care. We can all fight back though by being alert, by following a few simple guidelines, and spreading the word about the harm these scams can cause.”

Check ATOL/ABTA protection: If you’ve booked a package holiday that includes a flight with a UK travel company, you should receive ATOL (Air Travel Organiser’s Licence) protection. This is a protection scheme run by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) that ensures you’ll get your money back if the holiday company goes bust. It also gives you the assurance that you will be brought home if the company goes bust while you’re on holiday. 

You can look for the ATOL logo on a travel website, and find out more about ATOL protection on the Civil Aviation Authority website. If you’ve booked a holiday that you understand is ATOL-protected, check that you receive an ATOL certificate. You should receive this as soon as you have booked and paid for your holiday. 

Alternatively, travel companies or tour operators may be a member of ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents), and you can go on the ABTA website to verify the company’s membership. Abta offers similar protection to Atol, but only covers holidays that involve rail, cruise, or self-drive, instead of package breaks where flights are included.

Take your time to make sure the offer is genuine before you book: Look for reviews from different customers and find a company that has plenty of good reviews, rather than poor ones or no reviews at all. Review sites such as Trustpilot and Tripadvisor are good places to look. Essentially, don’t be rushed into making any decisions if you have any concerns at all, even if you’re told a holiday or flight offer is ‘time-limited’. 

If you’re booking through a website, make sure it’s genuine. When you come to pay, check that the website address starts with ‘https’ and that the padlock symbol is displayed during the process. 

Look for warning signs in accommodation listings: If you’re booking accommodation on websites such as Airbnb, beware of listings that include the host’s email or phone number. These types of sites usually ban direct contact outside of their internal system to protect against fraud. Similarly, beware of any host that asks you to pay outside of the website’s secure payment system. 

Pay using a credit or debit card: If a person or company wants you to pay another way, such as direct to a bank account, this should set alarm bells ringing. If you pay this way and things go wrong, it can be impossible to get your money back. Whenever possible, pay by credit or debit card, and where you’re sure you’re not being scammed, you may use a secure payment service such as PayPal. If you’re using an accommodation website such as Airbnb, you should only pay using their online payment system. 

If you pay using a credit card you should be protected under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. This means that you can request a refund from the card provider if the company you bought from goes bust and you bought something that costs between £100 and £30,000. Paying by debit card may also offer some protection as you can ask your bank to reverse the transaction by doing a ‘chargeback’.

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What to do if you’re a victim of fraud

Get in touch with your bank if you think you’ve fallen victim to fraud. If you have been defrauded or a victim of cyber-crime you must report it to Action Fraud either online or by calling 0300 123 2040. You should also report what’s happened to the Financial Conduct Authority either online or by calling 0800 111 6768. 

If a scam has left you struggling financially, contact Citizens Advice to help you find a way forward. You can speak to an adviser through its national phone service Adviceline, on 03444 111 444, which is available from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.

You can read about other kinds of scams and how to avoid them in our guide Types of scam and how to avoid them.