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Avoiding holiday booking fraud

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With the rise in online bookings we’ve seen a crackdown on digital fraud. Last year the government pledged £1.9 billion to tackle cybercrime through its National Cyber Security Strategy and brands invested millions in online security to safeguard customers in order to make it easier to stay safe when booking on the internet.

According to research by Action Fraud, there were more than five thousand cases of holiday booking fraud reported in the UK last year so it’s no surprise security is a concern for many holidaymakers choosing to book online.

With the rise in online bookings we’ve seen a crackdown on digital fraud. Last year the government pledged £1.9 billion to tackle cybercrime through its National Cyber Security Strategy and brands invested millions in online security to safeguard customers in order to make it easier to stay safe when booking on the internet.

Nick Cooper, founder and co-owner of Villa Plus – one of the UK’s largest Villa Holiday providers, said: “In the age of the internet millions of British holidaymakers happily book trips around the globe every year, but as with any other means of making a purchase there are occasions when things can go wrong.

“Booking holiday accommodation is no exception and it’s an area we’ve been working hard to help eradicate. As a rule of thumb, there are a few things you can do when booking online to help guarantee you’re getting the best deal without being stung by fake websites or bogus companies.”

How to avoid holiday booking scams:

1. ABTA or ATOL registered
“Look for the ATOL and ABTA logo and membership number. ATOL protects you from losing your money or being stranded abroad on a package holiday and ABTA members help holidaymakers get the most from their trip and assist when things don’t go according to plan.“

2. Be wary when paying by bank transfer
“Direct bank transfers are the chosen payment method for many fraudsters, once paid it’s notoriously difficult to enforce a refund so never pay for your holiday via bank transfer unless you’re certain of who you are paying and what it’s for.”

3. Are all payments by credit card safe?
“Credit card payments are safer and some payments are protected under section 75 of the credit card act but it’s not applicable all of the time. Be wary if a company requests you to pay a third party and transfer the money later – this is a common trick used by bogus sites to get around credit card booking rules.”

4. Who are you actually paying?
“A fake website may have copied legitimate details of a company, so when you check out the address and company details, even ATOL or ABTA, it all looks correct. Watch out for scammers asking you to pay the owner directly into someone’s personal name – there’s nothing to say this person has anything to do with the official company.”

5. Research
“Has the website only been set up recently? Search the website on Who.is and look for the ‘registered on’ date. If it was registered a recently but claims to have been established for longer, it can be a major warning sign.”

6. They appear high up on Google so it must be ok
“Some bogus firms pay to appear at the top of Google and other search engines, so it doesn’t always indicate a trustworthy site. While the search engines try to remove these adverts, it can take time for scam adverts to be spotted.”

7. Check contact numbers
“Some fake websites don’t have phone numbers or only list mobile or non-traceable numbers like 0345, so you don’t see where they’re located. Ask for a local telephone number to speak to them on, fraudsters try to avoid giving out a telephone number linked to an address.”

8. Check their business address
“Often fake sites don’t have an address or the address they have given is false. If in doubt look at the address on Google Street View, can you see any sign for that company there? Can you contact another company or someone nearby who can confirm there is an office there and they are who they claim to be?”

9. Examine the site's image
“Fake sites usually steal photos and descriptions from genuine sites. Copy and paste an image into Google to see if they have been copied it from a legitimate brand. Some scammers will even ‘flip’ the image so it can’t be found on a search. Use the FlipAPicture website to ‘flip’ it horizontally and then search with it. If you find the same photos elsewhere it can ring alarm bells.”

10. The money back guarantee
“A promise is only as good as the company who makes it, if it’s a false company they’ll often say anything to get you to part with your cash.”

11. Check reviews, Facebook and Trip Advisor
“Customer reviews can be easily falsified on a website. Instead look at well-established sites like TrustPilot or Revoo and check the reviewers out if you’re suspicious. Have they only written one review or registered recently? Bogus companies might set-up fake accounts to post reviews from.”

12. Lowest prices – too much availability
“Is there lots of peak season availability? Are the prices much lower than you can find elsewhere? Check by asking for something virtually impossible – like a mid-week departure in peak season for a 17-night duration in a large villa. This would be very difficult to find and could be a sign of a fake site.”

13. Too good to be true
“The main thing to always bear in mind is, if it seems too good to be true, it usually is.”

Nick added: “This year alone, through our independent research we identified and have taken steps to help shut down 40 websites that were making false claims about holiday accommodation. Some are still active and bookers should be careful not to confuse them with genuine companies with similar names.”

What to do if you have been a victim of fraud

It’s important to report fraud so that the criminals can be stopped and that others don’t fall victim to the same crime. Report it to Action Fraud at actionfraud.police.uk or speak to a specialist adviser on 0300 123 2040. If you paid for the holiday using your credit card, report the fraud to your card issuer or you can call the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or visit crimestoppers-uk.org.

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