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Holiday Hijackers: Online Fraud Protection

How to protect yourself from online fraud in booking your holiday accommodation

Finding your perfect holiday accommodation online is not only faster, more convenient and cheaper; it is also a fabulous way of finding unique locations and experiences. The advantages are clear and most of us now search online. Yet, the simplicity of it all leads many to be blasé about online security. We’ve all heard the horror stories about online scams, but when it comes to booking holidays over the internet, how careful are we? 

Not as careful as we should be. Often, holiday hopefuls lose their hard-earned cash by paying upfront for a holiday that just doesn’t exist. Whether it’s the whole fee, just a deposit, or even just a few quid to enter a fake competition, you’re loss is criminal gain, encouraging others to earn an income through internet fraud.

Worse still, you may reveal your address and the dates which you intent to vacate your house to criminals, allowing the fraudsters to hit you twice. This risk is supplemented by posting on social networking, or travel tracking sites. 

The risk of being defrauded is not high enough to outweigh the benefits of online-booking, yet it is high enough to affect many thousands of holidaymakers each year. To make sure that you are not among the unfortunate minority who arrive at imaginary digs on an Austrian mountainside in the dead of night, you need to be aware of the dangers, know the signs and recognise the pitfalls.

According to Get Safe Online and travel association ABTA, one in three internet users are at risk of fraud, as they ignore basic prevention measures in their search for a holiday bargain. To raise awareness and decrease internet fraud, the Get Safe Online and Abta have developed the following essential checklist:

Simple Steps to Avoid Fraud  

Finding your Accommodation:

Be vigilant – check the track record of any accommodation provider unfamiliar to you. Don't reply to pop-up adverts from retailers you don't recognise. Legitimate companies will never send an information request via a pop-up advert.

Check for approval – check whether your accommodation provider is a member of a recognised travel authority or a trade association, such as Abta, which provides financial protection for your holiday.

Shop around and take your time when entering your holiday requirements on to travel websites, just as you would when booking face-to-face at a travel agent. Double-check before entering your payment details. This will help ensure you are buying the holiday you want and that is right for you, while protecting yourself and your money.

Trust your instincts – a five-star hotel at a two-star price? If something doesn't seem right, take additional steps to check. If still in doubt, stay away.

Don't fall for fake competition scams. A common trick by fraudsters is an email or phone call claiming you have won part of a luxury holiday, but need to pay a small fee to secure it.

• If renting a private villa, speak to the owner/agent directly. If the telephone number isn't provided, email and request it. Although some owners will be unwilling to disclose these on their websites, there should be no problems getting these at the booking stage if the owner is genuine. Ask for references from other people who have visited the property and contact them. Double check important information contained in emails by phone, hackers can break into a genuine email account or emulate it. The fraudsters convince holiday makers to pay by balance transfer. 

Do your research. Get the full address and find it on Google maps, and ask for a full contract which should set out all the terms and conditions of the rental, deposit, payment terms etc.

Paying for your holiday:

• Never forget to check that the web page is secure when entering payment details, to help ensure credit card information cannot be intercepted by fraudsters. On any web pages where you are entering personal or financial details, there should be a padlock symbol in the bottom right of the browser window and the payment pages address bar should begin with "https://". When making a payment to an individual,  try to use a secure payment site such as PayPal. If you decide to make a balance transfer, be very cautious, always check up on bank details received by email with a phone call. 

Remember to log out of sites which have asked you to log in or register details.

Keep receipts of all online holiday or travel orders. Print off any confirmation pages and emails, and keep them in case you are charged the wrong amount.

Monitor your payment. Check your credit card and bank statements carefully once the holiday is booked, and notify the bank as soon as possible if anything goes wrong.

Remember: Alarm Bells should ring if:

- You’re looking at booking a chalet or holiday home from an individual and they don't provide a contact telephone number, or don't respond to calls

- If they ask for a full payment upfront to be made by a cheque, in the post, or wire transfer, then you should be very careful. For private rentals, this may be the only way they can take payment, but it does make them almost impossible to track.


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