Exploring new places and cultures can be an exciting and eye-opening experience. But it's crucial to stay vigilant against common travel scams that could ruin your holiday and result in a hefty bill.
The number of people being scammed into paying for fake flights and accommodation bookings has increased in recent years as more people seek cheaper holidays, partly as a result of the cost-of-living crisis, according to Action Fraud, the UK’s scam reporting centre.
Holiday fraudsters scammed UK consumers out of more than £15m in 2022 – twice as much as the previous year, with the average victim losing £2,372 in 2022, Action Fraud said.
With this in mind, here are three travel scams with big financial consequences that could turn your dream holiday into a nightmare. Stay informed and safeguard your upcoming trips from fraud as best you can.
Scam 1: Fake travel websites
These scams involve fake websites that impersonate legitimate travel booking platforms, tricking users into making reservations or payments for non-existent flights, accommodation or packages.
Online ads and pop-ups for these sites might look convincing, as well as the websites themselves, but there will be clues that the platform is fake. Such as a dodgy-looking domain (.net instead of .com, for example), numerous typos and deals that sound unusually cheap – but often not so cheap that you’d question them.
When someone books and pays via the website, they’re not buying anything at all – the money has gone straight to a scammer.
As you can imagine, falling victim to these scams can be upsetting and financially devastating, as you could find yourself without booked accommodation or activities upon arrival, or any flights to even leave the country in the first place, resulting in a ruined holiday and unexpected expenses.
Protect yourself by: Avoiding clicking through to websites from social media adverts – go direct to a site. Check that the domain looks legitimate. For example, don’t be fooled that a well-known platform like booking.com would sell through booking.net.
Watch out also for incorrect or incomplete country listings on flight booking sites and low res or out-of-date logos of payment methods, for example, VISA or Mastercard (find the current logos on the companies’ websites). Read reviews and testimonials from previous customers to gauge the website's reliability.
Aim to make bookings directly on well-known travel platforms or through reputable travel agencies. Be cautious of exceptionally low prices or unrealistic offers. Trust your instincts and steer clear of websites that pressure you to make immediate decisions.
Scam 2: Public and fake WiFi scams
Public WiFi scams are carried out by cybercriminals on public networks to intercept and manipulate users' data without their knowledge.
Free WiFi, in places like airports and other public spaces, often requires no authentication to access the network so people can use it for free. This offers hackers several opportunities to intercept your data. They can either carry out “man-in-the-middle” (MITM) attacks, in which they position themselves between your device and the connection point, or they can set up their own free WiFi networks for you to connect to.
This means they can see everything you do on the internet and collect your personal data, passwords or banking details, and/or convince you to take an action such as changing your login information, complete a transaction or transfer funds.
The potential financial losses and emotional distress caused by falling victim to these scams can wreak havoc on your holiday and be time-consuming and challenging to resolve.
Protect yourself by: Avoiding connecting to rogue hotspots by asking a member of staff which WiFi you should use, and enable two-factor authentication on your accounts to add an extra layer of security.
Don’t access sensitive information or make financial transactions while connected to public WiFi. If you do need to make secure or private transactions, think about using a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your data and increase your privacy online.
If you suspect your Monzo card details have been compromised, you can freeze your card within the app. Head to the home screen, select Card and tap Freeze card. It’ll be frozen instantly.
Then get in touch with us. Tap the Help icon in the menu bar of your app, search ‘Reporting fraud’ and tap Get in touch at the bottom of the article.
Scam 3: Fake airline scams
There are many reasons why you might want to book a flight over the phone – poor internet connection, the website’s down, or maybe you just want to speak to a human.
In doing this, you’d be forgiven for Googling an airline’s customer support number and clicking on the first one that comes up. But this could leave you out of pocket if the number is a fake helpline.
On the face of it, the number and website might look real. Maybe it has a matching web domain to the real site, something like www.britishairways-support.net. Without knowing that BA would probably never have a .net domain, you might think it’s a genuine website.
Upon calling the number to book flights, the scammer claims to be a travel agent who charges victims a premium for flights and extra add-ons which are added to the ticket price.
Often the scammer says the charge will be put through as two payments – one may be the real flight ticket while the other is an “admin” charge which can be hundreds of pounds and goes straight to the scammer. They may dress it up as something like executive service, or extra leg room which never materialises.
The result is that the victim does get the flights, but has paid well over and above what they would have paid if they’d gone to the legitimate website or customer support.
Protect yourself by: Googling the number before you call it to confirm it's a real helpline, or finding the customer support number from the airline’s official website.
If you need help, take a look at our articles about fraud and staying safe online. You can also check out Take Five, a scam awareness organisation which provides useful information about holiday fraud.
For anything urgent, you can call or chat to us 24/7 (like if your card’s been stolen, you can’t make an urgent payment, you think you’ve been the victim of fraud, or you’re in a vulnerable position).