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BLOG: Holiday scams – Don’t let scammers steal your sunshine

BLOG: Holiday scams – Don’t let scammers steal your sunshine
James Masters
Written By:
James Masters

School’s almost out for the summer and if you’re anything like me, then there’s a good chance you’ve left booking a holiday until the very last minute, writes James Masters of Stop Scams UK.

Booking a holiday is supposed to be exciting – but if you’re planning one with little notice, then beware the classic “too good to be true” deal.

Just recently, a neighbour, Steve, told me of his nightmare experience that cost him thousands of pounds. After looking for a spot to holiday with his young family, he stumbled upon a beautiful villa in Greece, which was listed on a holiday rental site.

While Steve hadn’t come across the site before, the price looked like an absolute steal. Jumping at the opportunity, he barely thought twice when the host asked him to pay a large deposit.

What did arouse his suspicions, however, was that in order to secure the booking, they wanted the balance paid in full via bank transfer. It was only then that our neighbour did some digging and found out it was all a scam. Steve lost his deposit as well as the family holiday.

Steve’s story is becoming increasingly common with fraudsters targeting unsuspecting travellers looking for great deals.

Scammers often create fake listings for villas or holiday rentals, complete with glamorous photos that they’ve often stolen from other genuine sites. They lure you in with below-market prices and then ask you to pay a deposit or the full amount via bank transfer.

Once the payment is made, the listing disappears, and the scammer vanishes with your money.

According to figures from Action Fraud, the national fraud reporting centre, over £12m was lost to holiday booking scams last year, with July and August seeing the highest number of scams reported.

In addition, figures released by Lloyds Bank in April 2024 suggested there have been 7% more holiday scams over the past year, with people losing an average of £765. More than a quarter of those scammed were aged 35-44, the age most often responsible for booking trips for their families.

More recently, warned that AI was responsible for driving an explosion in holiday scams. Marnie Wilking, the company’s internet safety boss, said there had been “anywhere from a 500 to 900 per cent increase” in the past 18 months.

Behind this, Wilking suggested, was an increase in phishing – when criminals send scam emails or text messages that contain links to malicious websites, or trick consumers into revealing sensitive information such as their credit card details.

Part of the con is to send you to booking links that look like legitimate sites but are in fact cloned websites, purposely set up with the sole aim of defrauding unsuspecting consumers of money for holidays that don’t exist.

What can you do to protect yourself?

1) Verify the listing

When booking accommodation, always use reputable websites. Research the property and the owner, and check for reviews and ratings. If a deal seems too good to be true, there’s a good chance it’s a scam.

2) Avoid bank transfers

Never pay for a holiday rental via bank transfer. Use credit cards or secure payment methods that offer fraud protection. If you can’t do that, then use a secure payment platform such as PayPal.

3) Stick to internal payment systems

Use the payment systems provided by trusted platforms. These platforms offer protection by holding the payment until you check in.

4) Communicate on the platform

Keep all communications within the booking platform’s messaging system. Be wary of anyone asking you to move the conversation to email or a secure messaging service such as WhatsApp.

5) Check for pressure tactics

Be cautious if the owner presses you to pay immediately by offering discounts or claiming high demand. Genuine owners will not rush you.

6) Read reviews

Check out the company or property’s reviews and see what other travellers have said. Make sure you don’t just rely on one review site – scammers can plant fake reviews to lure people in. Look for reviews with details and avoid deals or properties that are short on information.

7) Check your logos

Always look for the ATOL logo (in the UK). Most legitimate travel firms will be members of ATOL (Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing), which normally means your holiday is protected should the company you booked it through goes bust and you booked a package deal that includes a flight.

James Masters is senior communications officer at Stop Scams UK