Louise Lynas of Bristol was a victim of airline-ticket fraud, one of the more common types of holiday fraud.
“I was looking for a ticket to Ghana where I was setting up a sewing cooperative. I did a search on a flight-comparison site and it showed me a price from a travel agent site, advertising a flight for £473. It was cheap, but it wasn’t ridiculously cheap. The flight was with a well-respected British airline and the flight times were good for me, so I decided to book it.
“I looked at their website, then I phoned up and spoke to someone. Then there was an email conversation, where they told me taxes were already included in the price, and explained that I’d need to apply for my visa separately from the Ghana Commission in London. Then they said I had to pay for my ticket first before they could confirm it in an email, but they gave me a reference code and a link to the airline’s website to check it.
“But I thought, oh, I’m not going to use their link. I’m going to look on the airline’s website myself, so I did, and I could see that the airline had a reservation for the flight I wanted in my name, and with that same booking reference.
“Then I got an email saying they could hold the ticket for four hours, and telling me if I wanted it, I’d need to send my passport number, proof of address and credit-card number. I asked a couple of friends if this seemed right, and they said yes, it’s quite normal because of money laundering rules.
“So I paid, and then suddenly, I couldn’t get through to anyone on the phone any more. I phoned again and again. And when I checked the airline website, my booking had disappeared.
“I called the airline, and they said what happened is that the fraudsters buy a travel agent’s licence, which allows them to reserve the seats – that’s why I could see the reservation in my name – but if they don’t pay for them within a certain period of time, then they lose the seats. As I paid using VISA Debit, I contacted my bank, who luckily were able to get my money back for me.
“At the time, I felt stupid, even though I thought I’d looked for all the things you’re supposed to look for. The only thing I didn’t do was double-check that the ATOL certificate was real, so I always do that now. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?”
If you fall victim to booking fraud you could lose your money - and your holiday too.