Consumers are falling victim of bogus online holiday scams by not checking the validity of companies offering special deals.
Almost one in three consumers booking holidays online do not confirm the authenticity of travel providers by checking they are a member of a recognised trade association before handing over payment details, according to a study out today.
Other common pitfalls include not checking the web page is secure when entering payment details to help ensure credit card information cannot be intercepted by fraudsters. More than one in five (22%) of online holidaymakers neglect to do this.
The lack of basic checks becomes magnified when consumers are hunting for ‘almost too good to be true’ deals via the web, leading many to opt for unknown or un-recommended providers.
The findings come from research by Abta and UK national internet security awareness initiative GetSafeOnline.org.
The poll of 1,000 adults last month found that more than a quarter (26%) of UK web users say they are driven primarily by price when choosing their holiday company, compared to just 4% who said service was the primary concern.
Search engines were the starting point for identifying holiday providers for almost a third of people (31%). But only 11% go direct to the website of a well-known operator or one that has been personally recommended.
Many holidaymakers are unaware of the most common scams – 67% of people said they have never heard of holiday rental scams, 68% responded in the same way when asked about bogus holiday sites, with 81% unfamiliar with ‘gap-year’ fraud.
More than one in five (22%) said they have been approached with holiday deals or villa rentals via unsolicited emails, phones calls or SMS text messages from individuals or organisations they don’t know.
Other findings included:
• 59% of UK internet users search for holidays or holiday rentals online
• 52% holidays online
• While the majority of UK internet users pay for online holidays via credit card (67%), debit card (64%) or secure online payment systems such as PayPal (33%), (14%) say they have sent advance payment via a cheque in the post
• 36% of UK internet users confess they do not track and check the payments in their bank or credit card statements after booking a holiday
• More than one in ten (11%) said they have found holidays to be below standard or not what was promised after booking online
• Of those who do not book holidays online, 37% said it was because they were wary of making large purchases via the internet due to the risk of fraud. A further 31% felt they couldn’t trust online providers
GetSafeOnline.org managing director Tony Neate said: “When we’ve been working hard the rest of the year, for most people, making sure we have a great summer holiday is really important.
“Fraudsters recognise this and play on people’s desires – we get caught up in the excitement of a ‘bargain dream holiday’ and cautiousness goes out of the window.
“When things don’t start to add up, that’s when you really need to do your research.
“For example, if you decide to rent a villa or holiday home from an individual and they don’t provide a contact telephone number or don’t respond to calls, and they ask for full payment upfront to be made by a cheque in the post or wire transfer, then you need to be very careful. For private rentals, this may be the only way they can take payment, but it does make them almost impossible to track.”
Abta head of financial services Mike Monk said: “Booking your holiday online is a great way of finding unique locations and experiences, as well as often being faster, more convenient and offering value for money.
“However, with the online travel industry worth many millions each year, it’s inevitable that fraudsters will follow the money trail.
“By being aware of the risks, knowing the ‘tell-tale’ signs to look out for and taking some basic prevention measures, there’s no reason why holidaymakers cannot enjoy the benefits of booking online.”
Security minister Dame Pauline Neville-Jones added: “Many people will be looking for last minute holidays at this time of year and the internet can provide a great way of shopping around for bargains.
“However, in your rush to book a holiday you should make sure you are not falling victim to online crime by taking some basic steps to protect yourself. Get Safe Online.org provides trustworthy advice and information on online fraud and scams as well as how to ensure you have the right kinds of protection on your computer”.
Get Safe Online has issued a Travel Essentials Checklist, developed with Abta, at www.getsafeonline.org.