As summer arrives, sunshine may not be guaranteed but certain things are: thousands of Scots will be looking for great holiday deals and snapping up tickets for music festivals. Unfortunately, you can also guarantee that certain unscrupulous individuals will take advantage of people’s desire to find a bargain. Citizens Advice Edinburgh (CAE) aims to help people avoid the traps which can ruin their summer.
Holiday scams can come in many forms, money changers who miscount currency, car hire firms who charge your credit card for damage you didn’t cause, or thieves who distract you at the airport check-in while an accomplice swipes your bags. Others might be less well known but are no less imaginative – Spanish police have warned of thieves concealing themselves inside large suitcases, allowing them to steal valuables from inside the baggage hold of coaches!
Sadly, the number of Scots reporting financial rip-offs has risen sharply. In 2014 Citizens Advice Scotland’s dedicated helpline for consumer issues saw a 14 per cent increase in calls about scams. A 2015 Which? survey also found that, in the last two years, 54 per cent of respondents had either experienced a scam personally, or knew friends or family who had. Given that many people do not report their experiences the true scale of the problem is unknown. Scammers can target anyone, not just the “vulnerable”, many ruses seem perfectly legitimate, and what can be more persuasive than the prospect of securing a great deal?
Consumer watchdog Which? reports that British holidaymakers lost £2.2 million in 2014, via a range of internet-based scams. These deceptions typically targeted middle-aged consumers and involved fake air tickets, fraudulent websites, and bogus online adverts. Losses are more than just financial – 30 people of people said their experience of fraud had a substantial impact on their health. The convenience of finding deals via the internet is clearly seductive, but the web’s anonymity and separation from consumers is problematic – last year 1,569 cases of holiday booking fraud were logged by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau.
In comparison to walking into a high street travel agency to demand a refund, obtaining redress via the internet can feel like an impossible task.Taking precautions is therefore essential. Firstly, research pays dividends – read online reviews to ensure a company is credible and remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Look for membership of a trade body, such as the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), as you will have a higher degree of protection if things go wrong. Don’t transfer cash – if you spend more than £100 on your credit card you have rights under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act – just make sure you pay off the balance! Some card companies also operate a system called Chargeback, permitting consumers to reverse a transaction if there is a problem with an item they have bought on a credit card (under £100) or debit card. Beware of imitation websites – these can be as well designed as real sites and use advertisements to ensure they appear prominently in Google searches.
For music festivals, gigs and sporting events, the key rule is to use official ticket sellers, however, the limited availability of tickets and the desperate desire to attend exclusive events can tempt even the most cautious. The Rugby World Cup will be the next major event to reach these shores this autumn. Rugby fans should only use sellers advertised by the event’s official website and can check sellers’ authenticity using the ‘Official Checker’ tool at www.rugbyworldcup/buyofficial.
Given the popularity of music festivals within the UK – and the money to be made from tickets – it is unsurprising that the ticketing process grows increasingly complex..Glastonbury Festival 2015 has been plagued by touts hawking fake tickets, with one scammer in England selling over £20,000 worth to unsuspecting music fans. Buyers should always buy from reputable sites or – if they must buy independently – should carefully check the seller’s credentials and only transfer money using recognised channels, such as PayPal.
Research your options carefully, maintain a healthy degree of scepticism, and don’t be afraid to seek advice. Citizens Advice Edinburgh operates five bureaux across the city which can provide support with consumer issues, and Citizens Advice Scotland offers advice via its helpline (03454 04 05 06) and website: www.adviceguide.org.uk/scotland .Remember – even if something has already gone wrong, it may not be too late to fix the problem.
• Mark Carter is CAE Projects Manager