Holiday scams are on the rise. Action Fraud reported a 20% increase in cases of online holiday fraud in 2016, up from 2015. Booking online can be a great way to find a bargain but it does expose us to less-than-savoury characters keen to diddle you out of your hard earned cash. These convincing fraudsters often use credible-looking websites and plausible ploys.
I once paid for a holiday apartment by wiring cash to a stranger 3000 miles away. I saw an apartment listed on the hotel’s (legitimate) website that looked more suitable for my family than a hotel room. The manager’s amiable response to my inquiry meant that I didn’t flinch when he asked for the money up front. He promised a discount for prompt payment. I stalled long enough to check reviews on various websites. No red flags there. I even called him in person. He explained that he couldn’t take my credit card because he managed the apartment for a private owner. I ignored the nagging feeling that something wasn’t right, and wired the cash later that day.
On arrival, exhausted from travelling, we were shown to an unsuitably tiny hotel room, not the apartment we were expecting. I expressed outrage with undignified fury. For whatever dubious reasons the manager quoted as being the cause of the ‘misunderstanding’, he stubbornly refused to honour our apartment booking. Possibly in order to prevent my barely disguised contempt for his deceit from being witnessed by his hotel guests, he showed us one of the available apartments, adding that we’d have to pay extra. We’d only paid for a hotel room, not an apartment, he repeated. We considered going elsewhere but our choices were limited. We conceded defeat and paid up, plus an unexpected security deposit.
At the end of our stay, we struggled to retrieve our deposit. He’d arranged to meet us with the cash, then called to postpone, with almost comedic excuses. We kept the key until we were fully reimbursed.
Follow these guidelines to reduce your risk of being fleeced:
- Never pay by bank transfer or wire cash until you have satisfied yourself that the holiday is legitimate.
- Don’t be persuaded to pay someone direct (even if the owner suggests that doing so will avoid commission fees) without digging further. Search for reviews from people who have holidayed there before. Call the owner with any concerns – most will be happy to reassure you.
- Paying with PayPal can offer consumer protection.
- Alarm bells should go off if you are being aggressively pursued for payment by cash transfer with a ‘deadline’.
- Book through an ABTA bonded company. You’ll have more recourse if anything goes wrong.
- Buy flights or hotels using your credit card for added protection under the Consumer Act (for purchases over £100).
- Most holidays are genuine and good deals are out there but, if a deal seems to good to be true, it probably is. Don’t ignore your instincts.
- Check the payment page starts with https in the browser, rather than http. The ‘s’ stands for ‘secure’. Look for the padlock icon, too.
- Pay a deposit to secure your holiday, and pay the balance later. This way, if anything goes wrong, you have minimised the loss.