Rise in online travel fraud highlights importance of trade associations

When travellers book a holiday, it is vitally important they take their time and follow a number of basic checks designed to protect them from falling victim to a fraud.

Albeit a British example, a recent study conducted by the City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau showed there had been a rise of 425% in travel fraud in the past year. In 2015, £11.5m (R236m) was lost to travel fraudsters as compared to £2.2m (R45m) in 2014.

City of London Police Commander Chris Greany cautions travellers to research the name of the company online travellers are considering using and ensure it is a member of a recognised trade body, like ASATA.

The report shows that the most common fraud type relates to the sale of airline tickets and there has also been a large increase in the number of owner accounts being hacked into on popular sharing accommodation websites. Losses to the individual can be substantial with the average loss being almost £3,000 (R61 771). Losses are not just financial, with almost half of victims (44%) saying that the fraud had also had a significant impact on their health.

The age group most commonly targeted is those aged 30-49, many of whom will have young families. The majority of those who are defrauded pay by methods such as bank transfer or cash with no means of getting their money back.

Types of travel booking fraud

The report reveals that during a 12-month period, 4,910 cases of holiday booking fraud were reported to Action Fraud. The most common types relate to:

  • Holiday Accommodation: Fraudsters are making full use of the internet to con holidaymakers by setting up fake websites, hacking into legitimate accounts and posting fake adverts on websites and social media.
  • Airline tickets: where a customer believes they are booking a flight and receives a fake ticket or pays for a ticket that never turns up. In 2015, flights to Nigeria, India and Pakistan were particularly targeted, suggesting that fraudsters are going after people planning to visit friends and family.
  • Sports and religious trips: a popular target for fraud due to limited availability of tickets and consequently higher prices. It is anticipated that in 2016, both the European Football Championships in France and the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will attract fraudsters.
  • Timeshares and holiday clubs: The sums involved with this form of fraud are particularly high with victims losing between £9,000 (R185 314) and £35,000 (R720 668) each, accounting for 26% of the total reported amounts lost.