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British travellers lose millions to fraud annually.

A report released by the City of London Police reveals that British travellers are swindled out of millions annually by fraudulent travel agents, fake websites and hackers.

The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, which released the report, stated that the most common type of crime involved fraudsters hacking into the accounts of owners on well-known accommodation sites or mimicking those websites with convincing imitations.

When holidaymakers turned up to their villa or accommodation, they found that the place either didn't exist or was already full, as there had never been a booking made in their name.

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In 2014, there were 1,569 reported cases of holiday-related fraud, with the age group most commonly targeted by the thieves being 30-49.

The highest amount of fraud occurs in the summer months and in December, when families are travelling for Christmas.

Mark Tanzer, ABTA Chief Executive, said: "Holiday fraud is a particularly distressing form of fraud as the loss to the victim is not just financial but can also have a high emotional impact. Many victims are unable to get away on a long awaited holiday or to visit loved ones and the financial loss is accompanied by a personal loss."

The average loss in these reported crimes was $1,318, with one unfortunate would-be holiday home owner losing $90,900 on a fake time share.

The most common types of fraud were for the following:

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Accommodation: the most common stings are a fake website which looks like a genuine online travel agent, people hacking into an account on a genuine site or links on websites and social media.

Airline tickets: again, a website masquerading as a genuine website or an unknown airline are the most common practices for tricksters. Customers think they are booking a flight and receive a fake ticket or pay for a ticket that never turns up. Flights to West Africa are a particular target.

Sports events or trips: These are often an attractive target due to limited availability and higher desire amongst those who wish to attend. In 2014 the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the World Cup in Brazil were targeted. Many people found they'd paid for non-existent accommodation or tickets to the events.

Religious trips: Religious trips or hajj to Mecca or Medina in Saudi Arabia were once again targeted with high losses for pilgrims.

Holiday clubs: Vacationers were offered free holidays if they attended a seminar about timeshares. Once there, they were duped into buying fake timeshares.

Detective chief superintendent Dave Clark, the City of London Police head of economic crime, said: "The internet has revolutionised the way we look for and book our holidays. The unfortunate reality is that it is also being exploited by fraudsters who use online offers of accommodation and flights that do not exist or promising bookings that are never made to rip off unsuspecting holidaymakers."

The City of London Police, ABTA and Get Safe Online have published their tips for not falling prey to online fraud:

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* Stay safe online: Check the web address is legitimate and has not been altered by slight changes to a domain name - such as going from .co.uk to .org

* Do your research: Don't just rely on one review - do a thorough online search to check the company's credentials. If a company is defrauding people there is a good chance that consumers will post details of their experiences, and warnings about the company.

* Look for the logo: Check whether the company is a member of a recognised trade body such as ABTA. You can verify membership of ABTA online, at www.abta.com

* Pay safe: Never pay directly into an owner's bank account. Paying by direct bank transfer is like paying by cash - the money cannot be traced and is not refundable. Where possible, pay by credit card, (or a debit card that offers protection).

* Check paperwork: You should study receipts, invoices and terms and conditions, and be very wary of any companies that don't provide any at all.

* Use your instincts: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

* Report it: Victims who are British residents should contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or via www.actionfraud.police.uk

It is also often safer to book directly with the hotel. Most major brands and even smaller brands do price-matching schemes, especilly if you join their rewards club (most are free). Find a good rate on an online travel agent's site, then find the hotel's number from their main website. Ring them to book the accommodation directly and ask them to price match.

The same can be done with most major airlines.

Tony Neate, ceo, Get Safe Online said: "A Holiday is often the most expensive thing people will purchase in a given year. So, take your time and do as much research as you can to check that the provider is safe.

It is often much easier to find proof a company is legitimate than evidence they are fraudulent.

Most importantly, never transfer directly into bank accounts. None of these scams will work unless you hand over your money!"

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Publication:Hotelier Middle East
Date:Apr 14, 2015
Words:877
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