After such a long time at home during the COVID pandemic, many of us have been counting the days until we can go away this summer.
Unfortunately, when something becomes very important to us, that’s when we’re most vulnerable to scammers, and that’s often when they strike.
Holiday scams are booming, up by a third in the year to March, according to Lloyds Bank.
Flight scams were on the rise, costing people an average of £3,000, Lloyds Bank figures showed.
There were even bigger jumps in hotel scams — where people lost an average of £1,200 — and package holidays, where they lost £2,300.
But the biggest rise was seen in caravan holiday scams — up by half. The lower costs of these holidays meant victims lost an average of £374, but it’s still money that none of us can afford to lose — particularly at the moment as the cost of living squeeze bites.
It means we need to be aware of common holiday scams, so we can protect ourselves. There are five doing the rounds at the moment that are worth watching out for.
Holiday cancellation refund scam
These boomed during COVID cancellations, but are worth keeping an eye out for now that so many flights are being cancelled.
Victims get an email or text offering to help them claim refunds or compensation, and they are asked to click on a link. These may claim to come from a travel company, airline or bank.
The link will take you to their site, where they will either steal your personal details, or they’ll put malware onto your computer.
Some will also ask for an administration fee — which is how they get your financial details.
There have been versions of this scam where criminals get in touch by phone, and variations where they set up social media pages.
The best way to protect yourself is to steer clear entirely. To claim a refund or compensation, your first port of call should be the company you booked with. If you need help as you go through the process, Citizens Advice has a really helpful guide available online.
Social media holiday booking scams
These come in various guises, but essentially advertise anything from flights to villas and caravans that don’t actually exist.
Scammers may offer holidays at attractive prices, or holiday lets in places that tend to be sold out at this stage in the summer. Once you’ve paid — either in full or the deposit — they disappear without trace.
It’s not just a horrible way to lose money, it can also cause holiday nightmares if you arrive and discover that you have nowhere to stay.
Scammers have found social media a particularly fruitful way to target younger people. Research by Airbnb found that over half of Generation Z and almost two in five Millennials use social media to search for accommodation, and 14% of people have no idea that they’re at risk from scammers as a result.
Holiday scams on official sites
It’s worth using an official provider with ABTA or Atol protection. Unfortunately, even on legitimate accommodation sites, you will still get some scammers.
Fraudsters may advertise accommodation that doesn’t exist, or use fake photos.
One scam involves them contacting you at the last minute to say that the place you booked is suddenly unavailable, but you can pay a bit more for another place or stay somewhere decidedly less attractive for the same money.
The plus side is that if you use a booking site with a scam policy, you should be able to get your money back. In some cases, they will cover any difference in the cost of any replacement accommodation booked at the last minute.
The best way to protect yourself is to do your research. Look for accommodation advertised by someone who has been renting through the platform for some time and has plenty of positive reviews.
Read the reviews carefully too — sometimes even ones that sound reasonably positive include hints that something wasn’t right.
Beware of anything that seems unexpectedly cheap and, at any stage, if someone asks for a bank transfer, to be paid outside the official site, this is a red flag. You’re totally unprotected if something goes wrong.
One variation on this theme is an advert or pop-up on an authentic booking site, which offers a cheaper deal on whatever you were searching for.
It feels like part of the legitimate site, but in fact you’re directed away from it, and onto a scammer’s site. Here they will ask for a bank transfer, and will take your money.
Sometimes this will all take place online, and sometimes they will call for your details. In both cases they’re scammers trying to steal your money so you mustn’t hand it over.
Holiday prize scam
Some scammers will contact you by phone, letter, email or text, saying you’ve won a holiday. The approaches vary, but eventually they’ll tell you there’s some kind of administration fee, and you’ll be asked for your card or bank details. Once they have these, they can take your money.
Unfortunately, if you haven’t entered a competition, there’s no way you can have won anything. So no matter how convincing these people are, it’s a scam.
As ever, if anyone ever asks for your financial details, it should start alarm bells ringing, and you shouldn’t give them anything.
It may seem like a cynical approach to take to something that’s meant to be one of the highlights of the year, but it’s better to take your time and assume the worst at this stage, so you can be sure you get the holiday you’ve been looking forward to for so long.