More than £2 million was conned out of British holidaymakers in 2014 after criminals targeted online booking firms, a new report released by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau has revealed.
Over 1,500 cases were reported to the police's fraud action team over a 12-month period, with many families arriving at their chosen accommodation only to find that no booking was in place.
Travel association Abta has joined forces with the police and the government-backed Get Safe Online service to warn the public of booking fraud in the run-up to the holiday season.
In total Brits lost £2.2 million to these internet-based scams, with one member of the public losing £62,000 in a fake timeshare scheme. However, the impact is not restricted to finances alone.
One third of victims claim that their health and wellbeing was significantly affected, with 167 people seeking medical treatment following falling foul of a holiday scam.
"Many victims are unable to get away on a long-awaited holiday or visit to loved ones and the financial loss is accompanied by a personal loss," said Mark Tanzer, Abta chief executive.
"Holiday fraud is a particularly distressing form of fraud as the loss to the victim is not just financial but it can also have a high emotional impact.
"We urge travellers to follow the tips that we have put together in partnership with the police and Get Safe Online to stop travel fraudsters in their tracks. We would also encourage anyone who has been the victim of a travel-related fraud to report it so that the police can build up a case, catch the perpetrators and prevent other unsuspecting people from falling victim."
When booking holidays online many of the same principles apply as when dealing with companies over the phone. You should never give out your bank details to organisations or individuals you do not trust, and if you do not recognise the name of a company it is better to do some research before completing a transaction. Never feel pressured to give over money until you are sure of what you're paying for and who you're dealing with.
Criminals frequently targeted sporting and religious trips due to the combination of limited availability and associated higher prices, while the age group most commonly affected by these cons was those aged 30-49. Unfortunately, the majority of victims paid using bank transfer or cash, meaning there was no form of financial redress.
Preventative information for consumers is available from organisations including the ICO which, in addition to tackling issues associated with cold calling (a practice we've campaigned strongly against with our Stop Nuisance Calls initiative), also provides advice on how to avoid online scams.