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Barclays warns sun-seekers about risk of ‘holiday villa scams’

By Vicky Shaw, Press Association Personal Finance Correspondent
Barclays said that over a third (37%) of reported villa scams result in losses of between £1,000 and £5,000.

Holidaymakers looking to beat the January blues by booking a getaway are being warned to watch out for villa scams which can result in victims losing thousands of pounds.

Barclays said that over a third (37%) of reported villa scams result in losses of between £1,000 and £5,000.

Its figures come from customers who have reported such scams directly to Barclays.

Holiday villa scams can happen when criminals hijack the details of overseas villas, or use fake details, to trick unsuspecting holidaymakers into transferring them some money.

Barclays’ research found that in 59% of reported cases, the victims were women.

More than a third (36%) of victims were aged 30 to 44 years old.

Ross Martin, Barclays head of digital safety, said: “Trying to escape those January blues may seem like an appealing prospect, but fraudsters are preparing to take advantage of sun seekers at this time of year.

“We must all be aware of the risks and make sure we are carrying out proper safety checks to ensure our online security and enjoy a scam-free holiday.”

As well as looking at its own data on villa scams between April and October 2017, Barclays also surveyed more than 2,000 consumers.

It found that more than half (55%) of people said they would not be put off booking a holiday even if it seemed “too good to be true”.

Some 14% would still book holiday accommodation despite knowing there was a risk of being scammed, and a quarter (26%) would be prepared to put themselves at risk just in hope of bagging a summer bargain.

Barclays also found that 43% would not hear alarm bells if they were asked to pay for a holiday via bank transfer, and less than half (45%) would check their booking is with a member of a consumer protection scheme trade body, such as Abta, leaving them susceptible to having less protection if something goes wrong.

In general, people who are tricked into transferring their money directly to a fraudster risk never seeing their cash again, as the bank was acting on their instructions.

Mark Tanzer, Abta chief executive said: “Abta sees at first-hand the damage caused by travel fraudsters with the many devastated customers who contact us for advice after they find out their much-anticipated holiday or trip to visit loved ones may not actually exist.

“The cost to them is not just financial; this crime causes very real disappointment and emotional distress.

“However this does not need to happen. Check and follow the tips and advice on abta.com and you will not fall victim to these unscrupulous individuals.

“But if you are unlucky enough to do so, always report it to Action Fraud so that they can put these crooks out of business.”

Barclays backs Take Five to Stop Fraud – a national campaign from UK Finance and Government offering tips to prevent financial fraud.

Here are Barclays’ tips for staying safe while booking holidays:

1. Is the offer too good to be true?
Do your research. If a villa is advertised at half the going rate and has great availability in peak season when everywhere else is full, this should tell you something. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

2. Do an internet search on the location.
If the villa in question appears to be advertised by other companies under another name, this may also be a warning sign. Be sure to do thorough research before making any booking.

3. Are they asking you to pay by transfer?
Scammers love bank transfers. The money goes straight from your account to theirs and then they take it straight out and it disappears. By the time you realise that something is wrong, they are long gone.

4. Look for companies that have a real location and real phone numbers.
Be suspicious of businesses that will only communicate via email and mobile phone. It is worth checking the address or even looking at the location through an online street map. Make sure you check that the travel agent and website is certified, and that your payment is going to the right people.

5. Before you commit to anything, stop and take time to think.
If it is a legitimate company, five minutes is not going to make any difference – and it could save you thousands of pounds and untold heartache.

Further tips for avoiding fraud can be found at barclays.co.uk/security.