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Criminals target holidaymakers via online scams

Banks have issued a warning to consumers over holiday scams involving fake listings, airline refund offers and travel deals, as criminals capitalise on the confusion around coronavirus travel restrictions.

As the easing of lockdown measures this week prompted thousands of Britons to make fresh plans for their summer holidays, UK Finance, the banking trade body, reported a rise in scams targeting holidaymakers.

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.”

Examples of fraudulent schemes include those involving criminals impersonating airlines, travel agencies or banks. UK Finance said fraudsters would approach their victims via scam emails, telephone calls, fake websites or posts on social media and auction websites.

Guidance published as part of the industry’s Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign includes recommending people are wary of any requests to pay by bank transfer when buying goods or services online. Instead, it recommends people use the secure payment options recommended by reputable websites.

The travel restrictions imposed due to coronavirus have resulted in thousands of customers applying for refunds for cancelled flights or holidays.

Ms Worobec said: “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.”

Auction websites and social platforms should take action to remove fraudulent posts and listings promoting holiday scams, she added.

Adam French, Which? consumer rights expert, said there was a lack of clarity from the government and holiday companies about refunds, which had left many consumers “confused and desperate for a way to get their money back — creating the perfect environment for fraudsters to operate in and prey on victims”.

He said people should be wary of any unsolicited emails, texts or calls regarding refunds, and instead contact their holiday company directly to request a refund. 

Mr French said: “To prevent fraudsters further capitalising on this situation, there must be a co-ordinated approach from the banking, telecoms and tech industries. This must be done in collaboration with the government, who must also end the confusion surrounding travel advice and ensure companies are fulfilling their refund obligations.” 

Other examples of scams outlined by UK Finance include fake websites offering cheap travel deals which are used to obtain consumer’s money and personal information. Websites may look similar to that of the genuine organisation but subtle changes in the website address can indicate that it is fraudulent.

Laura Suter, personal finance analyst at investment platform AJ Bell, warned people not to rush into booking a summer break. “Scammers will often put pressure on you to make a quick decision and hand over money immediately, to stop you thinking it through or checking with family, while others will offer impossibly cheap deals for breaks away or accommodation.”

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