Warnings over fake holiday scams

Consumers are being urged to be on the lookout for holiday scams including fake caravan and motorhome listings, refund offers and travel deals, as criminals take advantage of uncertainty around coronavirus travel restrictions and cancellations to target their victims and commit fraud.

Experts are warning that the trend for staycations has attracted criminals targeting people looking for a cheap break.
Experts are warning that the trend for staycations has attracted criminals targeting people looking for a cheap break.

UK Finance has launched a campaign to make people aware of scams such as fake listings for caravans and motorhomes on auction sites, where the ‘seller’ cites lockdown restrictions as the reason vehicles cannot be viewed in person; fraudulent holiday websites taking deposits for cheap holidays which do not exist and fake refunds for flight and holiday cancellations.

The watchdog warned that the current travel restrictions imposed due to coronavirus have meant thousands of customers have applied for refunds for cancelled flights or holidays - which could be exploited to defraud people via phishing emails, ‘spoofed’ calls or social media posts and adverts claiming to be offering refunds from airlines, travel providers or banks.

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Meanwhile, criminals are taking advantage of growing demand for ‘staycations’ in the UK this year, by advertising fake listings for caravans and motorhomes on auction sites and citing lockdown restrictions as the reason vehicles can’t be viewed in person. Thee vehicles are advertised at attractive prices to tempt people into believing they are getting a good deal, when in reality they simply do not exist or fail to arrive once paid for.

The third area targeted by UK Finance is in criminals setting up fake websites offering ‘cheap travel deals’ which are used to obtain money and information. It warned that websites may look similar to the genuine organisation’s - using images of luxury villas and apartments that do not exist to convince victims they are trusted and genuine - but said “subtle” changes in the URL can indicate that they are actually fraudulent.

Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, said: “Criminals will exploit the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on people’s holiday plans to commit fraud, whether it’s advertising fake listings for caravans or pretending to offer refunds for cancelled flights.

“The banking and finance industry is working closely with law enforcement to crack down on these cruel scams, but we need others to play their part too. It’s important that auction websites and social platforms take swift action to remove fraudulent posts and listings being used to promote holiday scams.

She added: “We would urge customers to also be on the lookout for scams and follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign. Always be wary of any requests to pay by bank transfer when buying goods or services online and instead use the secure payment options recommended by reputable websites.

“It’s also important to question any emails, phone calls or social media posts offering refunds for cancelled holidays and not to click on links or attachments in case it’s a scam. Instead, contact organisations directly to confirm requests using a known email or phone number such as the one on their official website.”

Consumer groups welcomed the campaign, Take Five to Stop Fraud, which encourages people to be suspicious of any “too good to be true” offers or prices and to consult reviews from reputable sources to check websites and bookings are legitimate.

John Crossley, head of money at comparethemarket.com, said: “It is more important than ever that people remain cautious online. Our research shows that a significant proportion of people have seen an increase in scams during lockdown, as fraudsters seek to take advantage of the current situation. If it sounds too good to be true, it’s worth taking a closer look before inputting your card details. There are steps you can take to reduce your vulnerability to scammers, especially as more of us are shopping online than ever before. If you feel you have fallen victim to a scam, or notice one, you should report the case to Action Fraud, the National Fraud and Cyber Crime Reporting Centre.”

Adam French, Which? consumer rights expert, said: “A lack of clarity from the government and holiday companies around refunds has left many consumers confused and desperate for a way to get their money back - creating the perfect environment for fraudsters to operate and prey on victims.

“People should be wary of any unsolicited emails, texts or calls regarding refunds, and instead contact their holiday company directly to request a refund.”

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