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Money & Rights

Holiday hoaxes to dodge

Bogus holiday homes, hidden hotel charges and taxi scams are just some of the travel cons around today. Jo Cooper reveals the latest scams and how to avoid them

Holiday scams are on the rise, with the number of reported cases up almost 20 per cent year on year, according to Action Fraud.

The latest statistics show there were 5826 reported cases of holiday booking fraud in 2016, and this is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg. The most common cons related to the sale of airline tickets, non-existent accommodation, religious trips and timeshare touts.

ABTA’s Sean Tipton says: “Unfortunately travel is an attractive area for fraudsters, who are becoming increasingly sophisticated in the way they target the public. ABTA, the City of London Police and Get Safe Online, are once again joining forces to warn the public about the dangers and help them avoid holiday scams.

“Travel fraud does not only result in financial losses, the emotional costs can also be severe with much-anticipated holidays or trips to visit loved ones being cancelled at very short notice.

“Victims often only find out at the airport or once they’ve arrived in resort that they’ve been ripped off, and even if they have the funds to buy a legitimate ticket or accommodation, either none may be available, or it may be nowhere near the standard they were expecting.”

The average amount lost per person was £1200. Younger people are most commonly targeted, with older generations less likely to fall victim, particularly those over 50 who are perhaps warier of ‘too good to be true’ offers. But it always pays to be on your guard.

When John Tamworth booked a villa for a December holiday in the Canary Islands, he paid £930 to the purported owner of the property to secure the booking. At a later date, he wanted to check his flight details and book a car for the trip but could not find the website he booked the villa through. Having used a search engine to try to find the website, he came across several Trip Advisor reviews saying that the website was a scam. John has since tried to call the supposed villa owner back, but with no luck

1) Apartment doesn’t exist

With the abundance of Airbnb accommodation and other websites offering holiday properties, it’s no surprise fraudsters have got in on the act. So be cautious. Properties that look too cheap may be fake. If you find the same picture being used for several properties, it’s probably a scam

Always check that the web address is legitimate and has not been altered by slight changes to a domain name (for example, going from .co.uk to .org). Property listings with no guest reviews should also be treated with suspicion as genuine hosts are likely to have reviews.

TIPS: If using Airbnb or a similar rentals website, make payments only through the website’s payment system. Be wary of a host asking you to make a bank transfer direct to them to save on fees. As Sean Tipton from ABTA says: “Never pay by bank transfer to a private individual’s account. You may never see your money again.”

2) Fraudulent flights

Airline tickets are an attractive area for fraudsters, many of which operate from outside the UK. They will often offer fares that are a lot lower than normal. The Civil Aviation Authority says people need to be extra vigilant when being offered cheap travel and check that websites that claim to provide ATOL Protection are operated either by a valid ATOL holder or by an agent acting on behalf of an ATOL holder.

TIPS: Look for the ABTA or ATOL logo to confirm the company or agent is legitimate. If you have any doubts, you can verify their membership on websites, such as: (www.abta.com/ find-a-member) or (www.caa. co.uk/ATOL-protection/ Check-an-ATOL/ATOLholder- search).

Most importantly, never pay by direct bank transfer. The best protection is to pay by credit card as transactions over £100 will be covered by your credit card provider under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

3) Budget airline extras

Low-cost airlines advertise staggeringly low prices, but watch out for all the add-ons, or you could find your cheap fare isn’t cheap at all.

TIPS: Make sure you check in online; don’t wait until you get to the airport or you’ll be charged extra. Ensure your hand luggage meets the airline’s strict criteria in terms of size and weight. If it is too large, the airline may charge you a small fortune to put it in the hold. Also watch out for extra charges for things like allocated seating.

4) Resort fees

Resort fees are becoming increasingly common. Many US resorts now charge them, but you won’t be told about them when you ask a hotel about a room rate or even when you book with a tour operator. In other words, you may get a nasty shock when you come to check out. For example, you can expect to pay a resort fee of 32 US dollars a night in a typical Las Vegas hotel.

TIP: Always ask your tour operator or hotel if their price includes resort fees and, if not, how much these fees will add to the price. Likewise, check to see if resort fees are included in any online offer you are given

5) Crafty cabbies

When you’re new to a city, it’s easy to be taken for a ride by a rogue cab driver or taxi. They may tell you their meter isn’t working in order to overcharge you. Or you may find a journey that should take just 15 minutes takes 45 because the cabbie took you on a round-about trip to boost his fare.

TIP: Always use a licensed taxi cab, preferably from a legitimate taxi stand at the airport. It’s also a good idea to have some idea of how much a fare to your hotel should cost (your hotel or tour operator should be able to tell you).

6) Highway pirates

Be aware of ‘highway pirates’ who target foreign-registered cars in Europe, especially those towing caravans. They may try to make you stop by flashing their lights at you. They will then claim there is something wrong with your car and, while this is being pointed out, their accomplice may be rifling through your belongings.

TIP: If you decide to stop to check the condition of your vehicle, stop in a public area with lights, such as a service station, and be wary of anyone offering help.

7) Lottery scams

There have been reports of lottery scams in Spain. A person receives what appears to be official notification from the Spanish Inland Revenue office saying they’ve won the Spanish lottery and should deposit money in a bank account to receive their winnings.

TIP: If you haven’t entered a lottery, be very wary, especially if anyone asks you to pay an administration fee or money up-front.

8) Social media tricks

One of the latest scams to hit social media sites like Facebook is the offer of two free flights to celebrate some airline’s anniversary.

You’re asked to fill in a survey and possibly click on a link to win the free airline tickets, but it’s a scam to collect information. When you click on the link, you are taken to a malware site that asks for your Facebook details.

TIP: If it seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t genuine.

9) Timeshare touts

Timeshare and holiday club touts continue to be a problem abroad. A common trick is for a friendly local to hand you a scratch card for free. You take it and discover you’ve won something (maybe a beach towel or watch). All you have to do is go to a nearby hotel to collect your prize. Once there, you discover you have to listen to a hard-sell presentation about timeshare apartments.

‘Investment’ is now becoming the scam of the year, according to the Timeshare Consumer Association, with offers to invest in properties (usually ‘to be built’) in such exotic places as Cape Verde or St Lucia

Stay clear. If anyone approaches you abroad, just say no. If they say they are not selling timeshare, it probably means they are! Don’t go to any presentations and don’t sign anything, even if they tell you the price is only available today (another ruse). If you need advice, contact the Timeshare Consumer Association: (www.timeshareconsumeras sociation.org.uk

10) Currency cons

Changing money with a dealer in the street or in a dubious shop could land you in hot water with the local police, not to mention leave you short-changed. You’re highly likely to be either given fake notes hidden in the middle of the bundle or a very poor exchange rate.

TIP: Use reputable banks and exchange shops (ask your hotel or tour guide if you’re unsure where to exchange money). Do your sums and work out exactly what you should receive at the exchange rate they are promising

11) Hire car charges

Some unscrupulous car hire firms make money by overcharging customers for minor damage or damage that wasn’t even done by you. You get home to discover the hire firm has added extra charges to your credit card bill.

TIP: When you hire a car, spend a few minutes taking photos of it at the start and end of the hire period to provide a lasting record of its condition.

12) The sob story

A smart-looking person in obvious distress says they’ve been robbed and asks you for money to call home or contact their bank.

TIP: Trust your instincts. If you genuinely believe their story, tell them you will hand over the money at a police station. If they are spinning you a line, they’re unlikely to want to go to a police station. Don’t be surprised if you see them telling the same sob story to someone else the following day.

Have these tips helped you? Have you got any of your own experiences to share?

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