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Travellers are warned to beware of coronavirus holiday scams

Holidaymakers have been warned to be on the lookout for scams this summer as criminals take advantage of the uncertainty surrounding coronavirus travel restrictions.

With many now panicking into booking a last minute trip and not wanting to miss out, potential travellers are more vulnerable to falling into a trap. 

UK Finance has urged travellers to be aware of holiday scams including fake caravan and motorhome listings as well as refund offers and travel deals as fraudsters target victims looking to get away after the lockdown restrictions ease on 4 July.

Fraudsters: Travellers have been warned to be careful when booking staycations this summer

Fraudsters: Travellers have been warned to be careful when booking staycations this summer

Fraudsters: Travellers have been warned to be careful when booking staycations this summer

The trade association has warned consumers about criminals who are experts at impersonating trusted organisations such as airlines, travel agencies or banks.

Such tactics to defraud people include scam emails, telephone calls, fake websites and posts on social media and auction websites.

Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, said: ‘Criminals will exploit the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on people’s holiday plans to commit fraud, whether it’s advertising fake listings for caravans or pretending to offer refunds for cancelled flights.

‘The banking and finance industry is working closely with law enforcement to crack down on these cruel scams, but we need others to play their part too. 

‘It’s important that auction websites and social platforms take swift action to remove fraudulent posts and listings being used to promote holiday scams.

Criminals could try to defraud people with phishing emails claiming offer refunds from airlines

Criminals could try to defraud people with phishing emails claiming offer refunds from airlines

Criminals could try to defraud people with phishing emails claiming offer refunds from airlines

‘Always be wary of any requests to pay by bank transfer when buying goods or services online and instead use the secure payment options recommended by reputable websites.

‘It’s also important to question any emails, phone calls or social media posts offering refunds for cancelled holidays and not to click on links or attachments in case it’s a scam. 

‘Instead, contact organisations directly to confirm requests using a known email or phone number such as the one on their official website.’ 

It has listed three scams to watch out for:  

Fake refunds for cancellations

The current travel restrictions imposed due to coronavirus have meant thousands of customers have applied for refunds for cancelled flights or holidays.  

Criminals are likely to exploit this situation to defraud people with phishing emails, ‘spoofed’ calls or social media posts and adverts claiming to be offering refunds from airlines, travel providers or banks. 

Many experienced this scam after the both Thomas Cook and Flybe recently stopped trading. 

Often emails and posts will include links leading to fake websites used to steal personal and financial information that can infect a victim’s device with malware.

Criminals can also create fake social media accounts imitating that of the real organisation, often claiming to assist with refunds. 

The links contained in the posts take consumers to fake websites requesting their personal and financial information. However, once entered, they will fail to receive any repayment. 

If you have any doubts, contact your airline or booking provider directly before opening a dodgy email.  

Always remember:

– Don’t click on links or attachments in social media posts or emails.

– Question uninvited approaches and contact organisations directly to confirm requests using a known email or phone number.

– Only give out your personal or financial information to services you have consented to and are expecting to be contacted by.

Criminals could set up fake websites offering 'cheap travel deals' used to obtain your money

Criminals could set up fake websites offering 'cheap travel deals' used to obtain your money

Criminals could set up fake websites offering ‘cheap travel deals’ used to obtain your money

Cheap travel deal scams

Criminals will set up fake websites offering ‘cheap travel deals’ which are used to obtain your money and information. 

Websites may look similar to the genuine organisation’s but subtle changes in the URL can indicate that it’s fraudulent. 

These websites may also seem professional and convincing, often using images of luxury villas and apartments that don’t exist to convince victims they’re trusted and genuine. 

These are offered for rent, often at discounted prices, and require a deposit to be made which is never returned.

Always remember:

– Be suspicious of any ‘too good to be true’ offers or prices – if it’s at a rock bottom price ask yourself why.

– Where possible, use a credit card when booking holidays over £100 and up to £30,000 as you receive protection under Section 75.

– Use the secure payment options recommended by online travel providers and don’t accept requests to pay separately via a bank transfer.

– Read online reviews from reputable sources to check websites and bookings are legitimate.

– Access the website you’re purchasing from by typing it in to the web browser and avoid clicking on links in unsolicited emails.

Caravan scams

Due to the current lockdown restrictions in place making it difficult for people to travel abroad, there has been an increase in people purchasing caravans and motorhomes as they opt for staycations. 

One of the scams that is likely to take place over the summer period is fraudsters advertising fake listings for caravans and motorhomes on auction sites. 

Criminals are taking advantage of growing demand for staycations in the UK this summer with these false adverts, citing lockdown restrictions as the reason vehicles can’t be viewed in person.

These vehicles are advertised at attractive prices to tempt people into believing they’re getting a good deal, when in reality they simply don’t exist or don’t arrive once paid for.

Payments are usually requested via bank transfer as opposed to using a recommended secure payment method. However, recently criminals are requesting the buyer pays using PayPal. 

The criminal then fails to send a PayPal invoice, at which point the buyer is contacted by someone pretending to be a representative from PayPal and receives a reference and bank account number for payment to be made into. 

Ultimately, the buyer doesn’t receive their goods as payment has been made into an account controlled by a criminal so customers should be on the lookout for scams. 

Criminals are advertising fake listings for caravans and motor homes on auction sites

Criminals are advertising fake listings for caravans and motor homes on auction sites

Criminals are advertising fake listings for caravans and motor homes on auction sites

Always remember:

– Be suspicious of any ‘too good to be true’ offers or prices – if it’s at a rock bottom price ask yourself why.

– Do your research before making any purchases and ask to see vehicles over video if you’re unable to see them in person.

– Use the secure payment methods recommended by reputable online retailers and auction sites and don’t accept requests to pay separately via a bank transfer.

– Where possible, use a credit card when making purchases over £100 and up to £30,000 as you receive protection under Section 75.

John Crossley, head of money at Compare the Market, said: ‘It is more important than ever that people remain cautious online. 

‘Our research shows that a significant proportion of people have seen an increase in scams during lockdown, as fraudsters seek to take advantage of the current situation.

‘If it sounds too good to be true, it’s worth taking a closer look before inputting your card details. 

‘There are steps you can take to reduce your vulnerability to scammers, especially as more of us are shopping online than ever before. 

‘If you feel you have fallen victim to a scam, or notice one, you should report the case to Action Fraud, the National Fraud and Cyber Crime Reporting Centre.’

Other scams to look out for  

There are many scams used by fraudsters looking to take advantage of travellers booking summer holidays. Here are some others to look out for: 

Reputable websites: Consumers should always make sure they are using reputable sites when booking trips. 

One way to check a site is legitimate is to see if it has a padlock next to the URL. This means a site is encrypted so browsing or making payments can’t be intercepted. 

Look at online reviews of the site – this should soon tell you if people have experienced problems or lost money if it is run by fraudsters. 

If the site tells you to pay by bank transfer, it is likely it is not legitimate. At least if you pay by debit or credit card, you stand a chance of getting your money back should something go wrong. 

Fake listings: Another way criminals may try to rip you off is with fake listings. This can be on any holiday booking site where pictures of properties that look genuine are actually just ripped off another website on the internet. 

Fraudsters will try and convince you to book these non-existent properties but instead will just take your money.

To avoid booking with one of these fake listings, check if the hosts contact details are on there. If they are, it is likely to be false as many sites, including Airbnb, ban their users from posting email addresses and phone numbers. 

If the property seems too cheap to be true, it probably is. Also, if a listing wants you to pay through another platform, for example, bank transfer, it is likely to be a scam. 

Scam insurance offers: The Association of British Insurers warned consumers earlier this year to be aware of people offering bogus insurance products. 

It advised people to be wary of robocalls or automated texts that falsely claim to be legitimate, mainstream insurance companies. 

They may claim, for a fee, they can help recover losses by submitting a claim, for the cost of a holiday or event such as a wedding cancelled due to coronavirus.

Consumers should also be aware of ghost brokers – fraudsters that may attempt to use an insurer’s branding to promote and sell fake or invalid insurance products, including products such as travel and business interruption which may claim to offer COVID-19 protection.

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