The risks of booking with fraudulent travel companies is highlighted today in a warning issued by Abta.
The alert as the peak booking period gets underway follows an increase in fake websites, online scams and non-compliant travel companies that have no financial protection in place.
With a third of summer holidays typically booked during January and February, the association says it is concerned that people looking for a bargain may be duped by fraudsters.
Travel fraud is up 425% year-on-year and costs holidaymakers £11.5 million according to the City of London Police.
Abta today unveils a nationwide advertising campaign in response to the growing issue.
The advertising will promote Abta’s ‘Travel with confidence’ message and encourage consumers to book with an Abta travel company during the busiest holiday sales period of the year.
Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “Booking a holiday should be an exciting experience, however it can be ruined by clever and unscrupulous scams.
“We have seen a significant increase in fraudulent activity over the past year, so we are encouraging all holidaymakers to stop and think about the company they are booking with.
“I would encourage people to book with an Abta travel company, so they can rest assured that their holiday company is genuine and covered by our code of conduct.”
Abta has compiled a list of warning scams and signs to look out for:
1. Businesses not providing financial protection
In 2016 more than 100 travel businesses were identified by Abta as selling package holidays without having proper financial protection in place, and 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, should there be a problem with the holiday. People booking a holiday that is Atol protected should always receive an Atol Certificate.
2. Scam websites
Some websites are set up purely to defraud customers, and these scam or fraudulent websites are an area of growing concern for Abta. On a legitimate website, there should be 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://’.
3. Cloned websites
These are websites that are copies of a genuine site with subtle changes made. Fraudsters can clone legitimate websites but will change the last part of the web address, such as from .co.uk to .org. They can also produce a realistic-looking website, but with the spelling of the address slightly different from that of the authentic site. Check that the website address that appears in the top window is correct. If you are suspicious of a website, carry out a web search to see if you can find out whether or not it is fraudulent.
4. Payment via bank transfers
Be suspicious when the only payment option is a bank transfer. Not only is this an indication that no bank is prepared to provide credit card facilities, but if you are dealing with a scammer it will be virtually impossible to get your money back.
5. False credentials
Some fraudulent companies may falsely use logos of official bodies such as Atol, or of organisations such as Abta and Iata. If the company you are using claims to be a member of a trade association, you should be able to easily verify membership on the trade association’s website.