While fraudsters are clever, there are a few tell-tale signs that should make you suspicious when booking your holidays, as well as some easy ways to confound the conmen.
Whether you’ve been cold-called on your home number or received an email that looks legitimate but has spelling mistakes, it’s important not to take communications on trust – however plausible or engaging they sound.
There are a few little things that might tip you off that something’s not right – requests for bank transfers rather than payment through an official site, for example, or pressure tactics to rush you into booking. Amazing bargains might make you want to throw caution to the winds – but if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
And your suspicions might be raised by a slightly ‘off’-looking website, misspellings or strange use of English: legitimate companies go to great lengths to make their sites consistent and accurate.
Fraudsters are often one step ahead, but there’s a lot to be said for trusting your instinct and taking extra precautions. This checklist of six tips could help you book your holiday safely.
1. Check the logos: Look for a certificate from one of the UK’s official tourism industry bodies: ATOL, ABTA, AITO or The Travel Trust Association. Then check with the relevant body that the company is, in fact, registered with them, as it’s easy to just copy a logo on a website. If booking with agencies based in other countries, do some internet research to find out what their governing bodies are, then check with them.
2. Don't click the link: Fraudsters may send emails that don’t look quite right, or contain unrealistic offers. If you’re suspicious, don’t click – it could lead you to a fraudulent copycat website. Instead, if it’s a company you know and trust, do a search for the company name and go to their website that way. Any deals should be clearly displayed there.
3. Be cynical: If a deal seems too good to be true, a company is too aggressive in trying to get you to book quickly, or if anything else at all triggers alarm bells, trust your instincts, and double-check. And you can always ask a trusted friend or family member what they think before you book.
4. Do extra research: If you’re suspicious at all, trust your instincts and do more digging. Seek out company reviews online, and make sure they’re not all from the same time frame or in the same tone of voice, which might indicate they could be fake. Double check any bookings through an online travel agent with the actual service providers such as airlines or villas. Even if you phone up, it’s not a guarantee that this is a real service.
5. Consider paying by credit card: If you hold a credit card and pay using your card, either partially or fully, you may be protected legally if something goes wrong, through Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. Section 75 protection only applies in certain circumstances, and claims can take time for your card issuer to work through, so get in touch with them as soon as you think there’s a problem.
Debit cards are not covered by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, but some debit cards, such as Visa Debit, are part of a voluntary scheme called Chargeback, which does give some protection.
If you’re unsure what protection you’re afforded when paying by debit card or credit card, check with your card provider before booking. You can find out more about how you can dispute a payment on your card here.
6. Use different passwords: If you use the same password for every booking website, from accommodation to flight, and a fraudster gets hold of your password through hacking or via a fake website or email, then they can use that same password to access your details across all sorts of websites where your credit card and bank details might be stored.
If you fall victim to booking fraud you could lose your money - and your holiday too.
Louise thought she was booking through a big airline - but it was all a con.