how to avoid holiday fraud

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<p><figcaption class=Breaking a dream on a Greek island can be a nightmare if it turns out that your accommodation is not there.Photo: NurPhoto/Getty Images

Can you imagine arriving in a small Greek village after a long flight and bus transfer, only to find that the luxury town you and your family were hoping to spend the next two weeks in is not there – and that you spent £5,000 on – there?

Some tourists are set to find themselves in exactly that position this summer, and many more holidays will be ruined as people realize they’ve been scammed before they’ve even left the airport.

Action Fraud has estimated that holiday scams cost British tourists £15m a year, but the real figure is likely to be much higher.

Guardian Money has put together a guide to make sure you don’t become the next victim.


As more of us now choose to package our own holidays – arranging accommodation and flights separately – fraudsters are finding new opportunities to target victims.

They have been so successful that none of the major online booking sites – Airbnb,, Expedia and Vrbo – are immune to fraud. If you are booking a holiday, you need to be on your guard.


Scammers will usually post fake property listings, complete with glamorous photos mocked or stolen from a legitimate listing. They will then price them below market rate and sit back and wait for the inquiries to come in.

Most accommodation websites, such as Vrbo, Airbnb and so on, have internal messaging and payment systems.

The scammers aim for you to be able to communicate outside of these, usually via email or WhatsApp. The lure is a cheaper price, or the dates you were initially told were suddenly possible – unless you book “direct” and pay in advance and in full by bank transfer.

Don’t be tempted. If an owner asks to communicate outside of the internal email system, walk away.

Next, you need to be wary of any web link that comes in an email, no matter how good it is. Go to your preferred listings website and log in. If the email is genuine, it will contain the same message. If not, it’s probably a scammer.

When it comes to payments, it’s the same story. One of the reasons Airbnb has been so successful is because of its internal payments system. The host is not paid until you check in.

Originally Vrbo didn’t offer the same system but now has its own “book with trust guarantee” that promises to refund you if the listing turns out to be fraudulent.

Other major sites, such as, now accept credit card payments which gives you extra protection, so use them.

We cannot stress this enough: stick to the internal card-based payment system, using a credit card, not a debit card, for the extra protections it provides.

Some old-school accommodation providers still ask to be paid directly into the owner’s bank account. If such a destination is your dream, you have a dilemma.

If you’ve been there before, you trust the owner – and you’ve called them to check that he/she is who you’ve been communicating with, and not an impostor – then you may decide to proceed . Note that if it goes wrong, you will probably never see your money again.

If you are determined to book a place that requires a bank transfer, there are a few things you can do to reduce the risk. Look at Google Earth and check that the property is there. Ask yourself, “is this place good value, or too cheap?” And, “is the owner rushing me to finish?”

Fraudsters often want to pressure you into parting with money quickly.

They will warn that the property will be let to someone else if you don’t commit immediately, or offer a 20% “discount” for immediate payment. These are all warning signs.

Never send a bank transfer without speaking to the owner first. If you have the slightest doubt, go back. I wouldn’t send a bank transfer to a property I haven’t been to before. In my opinion it is not worth the risk.

Package deals

Booking a package deal is usually the safest option, but you still need to be on your guard if you use a small firm you haven’t heard of before.

The order of the day is to look out for official logos on the travel company’s website. If your supplier is covered by Atol, you will be fully protected if any of the travel suppliers collapse or cancel.

Check the Atol website to confirm – you can search for the company name or Atol number to make sure it’s actually registered.

It is the same story with the protection of Abta travel agents. In the past, some blind travel firms have displayed the Atol and Abta logos but were not part of either scheme – so check. Travelers to Mecca, and other religious pilgrimages, should be extremely wary, as these are often targeted by scammers.

If you’ve booked a holiday, and you’re sure you’re covered by Atol, make sure you get your Atol certificate.

free flyer template,

Have you received an email, text or WhatsApp message out of the blue offering an unobtainable deal or gift with your favorite airline? It is almost certainly a scam.

In 2022, a WhatsApp message promoted the Emirates Airlines 2022 Vacation Giveaway that attracted many people. It offered the chance to win one of 5,000 free round-trip flights. Airlines don’t randomly give away free flights, especially in August.

After booking

If you have booked on the website, be aware that the company is targeted by scammers.

This has resulted in customers being sent messages, both by email and in-app, saying their booking is at risk of cancellation if they don’t confirm their credit card details. Because it comes from the internal email system – and contains accurate booking details – it has caught a lot of people.

Recently, it has come to light that Expedia customers have experienced the same scam. Do not follow the new payment links sent. Instead, call or email the hotel directly. You will probably find that your reservation is fine, and that it has been paid.

Before your flight

Avoid fake customer service accounts. Criminals are increasingly creating fake accounts on social media that mimic those of real businesses or organizations, claiming to be able to help with refunds or problems.

Tweet Ryanair, for example, to ask about a flight time, and you may be contacted by a fraudster hoping to get your personal information. They will usually ask you to send them a direct message with your details, and real accounts will usually direct you to a web page, or give you a number to call.

The fake account will probably only have a few followers and have a slightly weird name, punctuation included. If you’re still in doubt, search for the real account – it’ll usually have a lot of followers and probably have a link on the airline’s website – and see if you’ve been answered.

When you get home

It may not be likely, but you’re not safe from fraudsters even after you’ve returned from your holiday – especially if you’ve had a problem and contacted a travel supplier to complain.

Beware of fraudulent emails that appear to be from the travel company and invite you to claim a refund. They will usually link to a fake website, and are designed to steal your personal and financial information. If you expect such a message your guard may be down.

It’s a similar story with phone calls. The number on your phone may appear as it is coming from the travel company. Get the person’s name, hang up and call the legitimate travel company on a number you found yourself. If they are who they say they are they will make the payment.

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