Travel fraud: if holiday deal sounds too good to be true – it probably is

As holiday bookings soar, so do fraud schemes that could ruin this precious time off. The public is urged to think twice before handing out money and personal information when booking a trip.

Action Fraud, a UK-based travel scam watchdog, has received 4,244 reports of holiday and travel-related fraud over the past financial year – a staggering increase of over 120% compared to a year before. Each victim lost £1,868 ($2,280) on average, or a combined total of well over £7m ($9m).

“Unfortunately, we know that as demand for holidays soars, so does the number of scams,” Pauline Smith, head of Action Fraud, said. “Criminals are always finding new ways to catch people out and make them part with their hard-earned cash,” she noted.

Some victims told authorities they were duped by what seemed to be genuine travel websites but turned out to be fakes impersonating flight comparison or holiday accommodation pages. Others said they responded to an advertisement on social media.

"If a promotion seems too good to be true, it often is," Mark McCluskie, EMEA head of investigations at Nuix, told Cybernews.

Victims that fell for a seemingly lucrative offer would be contacted by someone pretending to be a company representative. After receiving a payment, a fraudster would either end further interaction – or provide travel details.

“Sadly, some victims have only become aware that they have been the victim of fraud when they arrive at the airport and are unable to check-in,” Graeme Buck of ABTA, an association of British tour operators and travel agents, said.

Holidaymakers should take necessary precautions before booking a trip – always carefully check if the website’s domain name is correct, research a company, and pay by credit card if possible.

"It's essential that every instance of holiday fraud is reported to law enforcement... This will produce speedier more cost-effective investigation for the victims and judicial system alike," McCluskie said.

Improving cyber hygiene habits might help as well.