United Kingdom

Beware the online crooks preying on your dream of a holiday

Following the easing of travel restrictions, thousands of holidaymakers have wasted no time in booking a summer break. But people are being urged to be vigilant as criminals look to exploit their eagerness to get away.

Jesús Sanchez-Aguilera Garcia, of cybersecurity firm McAfee, says: 'With the travel industry getting back into motion, online criminals are ready to prey on victims. Fraudsters are fully aware of holidaymakers' desire for a great deal and will use it to their advantage.'

He adds: 'It's vital when booking your holiday to remain alert to the common tactics used by online criminals, despite the excitement.'

Too good to be true? Be wary of emails and adverts linked to websites promising bargain breaks

Above all, be wary of emails and adverts linked to websites promising bargain breaks. Figures from McAfee show almost a third of holiday bookings occur through such email promotions and pop-up adverts, and more than a quarter of people do not check the authenticity of a website before booking.

Scam websites may look like those of genuine travel companies, with images of luxury villas to lure people in, but their aim is to install malware, steal personal information and capture passwords.

Subtle differences in the website address page (URL) can indicate an offer is fraudulent. And any request to pay by bank transfer instead of recommended secure payment options should set off alarm bells.

Paul Davis, retail fraud director at Lloyds Bank, says: 'When looking for a holiday online, make sure you book with a trusted company which is Abta or Atol protected. The Abta website helps ensure you are booking through genuine companies and trusted websites.'

John Paul Donnelly, founder of 5 Star Villa Holidays, says: 'To check you are using a reputable provider, search for mentions of the company online, phone the company before you book, look at its social media pages to ensure it is an active company and read guest feedback.'

Cybercriminals are not only targeting those heading overseas. With many holidaymakers booking staycations this year, banking industry body UK Finance warns that fraudsters are advertising fake listings for caravans or motorhomes on auction sites. 

Prices are attractive, but buyers are often told they cannot view the vehicles due to lockdown restrictions. In reality, the vehicles do not exist.

Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, says: 'Ensure you do your research before making a purchase – read reviews of the website or person you're buying from and ask to see vehicles over a video call if you're unable to see them first-hand.'

Even those not booking a holiday need to be cautious. Anyone awaiting a refund from a cancelled holiday should be wary of emails, calls or social media posts claiming to offer money back from airlines, travel providers or banks. Often these promise an instant refund if holidaymakers reveal bank details or pay an upfront 'handling' fee.

Those looking for travel cover are urged to keep an eye out for fake travel insurance websites that offer Covid-19 cover when many genuine policies no longer do.

Tom Bourlet, at travel firm The Stag Company, says: 'Check the terms and conditions page, the 'about us' page and blog section. Most scam insurance websites are built as quickly as possible and have plenty of spelling mistakes and a lack of content.'

How to stay safe when booking a trip

● Be wary of pop-up adverts and websites advertising rock bottom holiday prices.

● Never click on attachments or links in social media or email offers of 'cheap deals' or discounted prices.

● Ensure any company unfamiliar to you is legitimate by researching it online and checking reviews.

● Check website address pages (URLs) for subtle misspellings or extra characters.

● Look for holiday companies that are members of professional bodies such as Abta, but keep an eye out for fake, blurred logos.

● If renting a property, search for the full address and find it on Google maps to confirm its location. Also check if the images and description match up.

● Always check terms and conditions of the booking first, including payment terms and cancellation fees.

● Where possible, pay with a credit card to benefit from Section 75 protection.

● When paying online, check that the website URL starts with https:// rather than http:// The 's' indicates it is a secure connection. Also check for the padlock symbol in the website address bar.

● Use secure payment options recommended by online travel providers and do not accept requests to pay separately by bank transfer.

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