Guest Post: Combat online scams affecting the global travel industry

Guest Post: Combat online scams affecting the global travel industry

Robin Tombs, chief executive of Yoti, explains why consumers are increasingly at risk of holiday fraud and what organisations can do to prevent it happening in future

My morning routine – breakfast, coffee and the news – has been the same for many years now. But in 2017, as I listen to the morning’s updates, another daily occurrence now takes place: stark warnings about staying safe online.

From catfishing to data breaches, and email phishing to ID fraud, these incidences now make headline news on a daily basis.

The travel industry is no exception here. Take the Abta breach earlier this year, which saw the data of 43,000 individuals and up to 650 Abta members compromised.

Plus around 1,000 of these were files that included personal identity information of the customers of Abta members. The passwords of members and their customers were also accessed.

But it’s not just these large-scale hacks that the travel industry needs to be wary of, as individual holidaymakers are now being scammed online more than ever before.

A recent report from Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud and cybercrime reporting centre, showed that there were 5,826 reported cases of holidaymakers being ripped off by scams in 2016.

The most common types of fraud related to holiday accommodation, airline tickets, sports and religious trips and timeshares.

The sharing economy has likely had an impact on the rise in fake adverts and fraudulent bookings. 17 million people booked a stay through the Airbnb website last summer, and it has roughly 1.5 million listings.

Despite its popularity, reports of scams are still frequent, perhaps explaining why peer to peer property rental is still a fairly niche market.

In a survey recently conducted by Yoti, only 3% of respondents had used platforms like Airbnb to rent out their property. Furthermore, one in five people are not participating in the sharing economy because they are worried about scams.

In this instance, the evidence suggests that some form of assured identification is necessary in order to encourage further support for peer to peer holiday rentals.

Platform owners like Airbnb will be tasked with achieving this in a time, cost, and effort-friendly manner. Skype calls and passport copies in the post are simply not a viable solution for today’s digital, mobile society.

This type of peer to peer verification can help across a whole host of scenarios that will help keep holidaymakers safe.

Imagine booking a trip with a local tour guide, for example – the visitor has never met them before but has read two or three positive reviews on Tripadvisor so decides to go ahead with the excursion.

Being able to verify each other’s identities before they meet for the trip gives both parties peace of mind and can prevent fraudulent bookings.

Identity also plays a key role when it comes to more formal instances of ticketing. In future, an identity should be linked to a ticket – either for travel or a sporting event – in a way that cannot be disproved.

This ensures the ticket cannot be faked and will deter fraudsters from attempting this type of fraud in future.

It’s important that we educate both businesses and consumers about the importance of staying safe online – the responsibility lies on both sides.

Businesses must ensure these kinds of security capabilities are built in from the very beginning and security should not be an afterthought. At the same time, consumers must be vigilant when booking things online, especially when dealing directly with a property owner or letting agent.

Ensuring these sellers are who they say they are through digital ID checks will be the first crucial step in reducing scams. With holiday fraud on the rise, the onus is on all of us to make sure the bad guys don’t prevail.

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