Cyber criminals and online fraudsters conned over 5,000 holiday travellers out of over £7 million in 2018 by creating fraudulent websites, offering attractive deals to travellers, and spoofing legitimate domains of popular airlines, hotel chains, and other brands.
The losses incurred by British travellers in 2018 was higher compared to £6.7 million they lost in the previous year, indicating increasing success for cyber criminals who engage in holiday fraud and the use of fake domains to obtain personal and financial information of UK citizens.
A bulk of fraud cases involved the sale of fake airline tickets to international destinations, particularly flights to Africa and the Indian subcontinent during holiday seasons. In many instances, online fraudsters exploited travellers' lack of knowledge of the strict UK regulations in place governing the sale of airline tickets.
Cyber criminals raked in big money through holiday fraud
Cyber criminals also made a lot of money last year by offering upmarket villas for rent in Spain, France, and other countries using very professional and convincing websites. The fraudulent sale of accommodation in international locations made up a quarter of total fraud losses in 2018, with losses to British travellers peaking at the end of summer holidays in October.
According to Action Fraud, even though the average amount lost to holiday fraud last year was £1,380 per person, the actual losses to holiday fraud may be even higher as many victims feel too embarrassed to report being defrauded by cyber criminals.
"The cost to victims is not just financial; this crime causes very real emotional distress. Fraudsters are using increasingly sophisticated methods to target destinations and times of year when demand is high and availability limited, as they know people will be looking for good deals," says Mark Tanzer, chief executive of ABTA.
"As victims often find out just before they travel or even in resort that they have been defrauded, it can then be very difficult and expensive to obtain a legitimate replacement booking compounding the financial costs and emotional distress suffered by victims," he adds.
How can travellers protect themselves from fraudsters?
Tony Neate, Chief Executive of Get Safe Online, says that the rising instances of holiday fraud should not deter Brits from planning international holidays as following a few online safety precautions should prevent cyber criminals from defrauding them through fake airline tickets, holiday packages, or false accommodation bookings.
"Customer reviews are invaluable but don’t rely on just one review,research thoroughly. Look out for companies that are members of professional bodies such as ABTA and be wary of paying a private individual by bank transfer, even if you are offered a discounted rate. Paying by credit card will offer you much more protection from fraud. Finally, trust your instincts, don’t get rushed into making impulsive decisions if something doesn’t feel quite right," he says.
Commenting on the news on cyber criminals conning thousands of travellers out of millions in savings, Daniel Cohen, Head of Products for RSA's Fraud & Risk Intelligence Suite, said that before making their bookings, people should work with many, well-known, travel planners that make it possible to compare and validate offerings.
"Phishing attacks also tend to be on the rise leading up to, and during, summer vacations – so pay attention to (fake) websites offering you amazing deals: often, if it looks too good to be true then it is, so go with your gut. It is also worth checking for grammar and spelling mistakes, as this can sometimes show that you are not dealing with a professional organisation. You should also inform your bank where possible if you are travelling, and always make sure your bank has your current contact information," he adds.