As we’re struggling through the cold winter months, are you dreaming of blue skies, fresh air and having some chill time with your loved ones? Great! To avoid those dreams turning into nightmares, you’re reading the right blog as we’ll explain the best ways to avoid getting caught up in a holiday scam.
Whether you’re staying home or heading abroad, remember that scammers are most likely to catch you when you’re vulnerable. We’re not saying that you need to be hyper-vigilant - you’re going on holiday after all - but it’s a good idea to know what to look out for so that your well-earned break is everything you’re hoping for.
Being alert should start from the moment you book your trip, as scammers love to take advantage of people who are frantically looking to get away and not necessarily checking details. You may have heard about scams where people book luxury accommodation for a bargain price and turn up to find that the place they were promised doesn’t exist? It happens more than you think. But there’s no need to fall victim to it, as we’ll be exploring all the tricks scammers use here.
What are holiday scams?
Holiday scams are on the rise as people start to explore the world again post-Covid. Wherever we go and whatever we do, scammers follow as they’re desperate to uncover any opportunity to catch us out.
The scams themselves can take many different forms:
- Fake accommodation: Online listings for holiday rentals may appear legit but are actually fraudulent. Once you book and send a deposit, the scammer will disappear, leaving you without accommodation.
- Fake contests and prizes: Scammers often send emails or social media messages claiming that you've won a dream vacation or other grand prizes. To claim your 'prize,' you're asked to provide personal information or make a payment upfront.
- Fake airline refunds: Scammers may contact you claiming to be from an airline and offer a refund for a cancelled flight. They'll ask for personal information or payment to process the refund, which is never actually issued.
- Fake holiday packages: Criminals will set up fake websites offering deals that are ‘too good to miss’.
It can be extremely hard to spot fake websites as scammers deliberately make them look similar to regulated holiday booking sites. Some have even created fake social media accounts to build a fake sense of trust. However, it is very easy to buy both social media followers and likes. Even if a social media page has a lot of followers and likes, it doesn’t mean it's legitimate.
How to spot holiday scams
While scams can take many different forms, here are some key indicators to keep an eye out for:
- Unfamiliar Websites or Companies: Avoid booking through websites or companies you've never heard of or can't verify their legitimacy. Reputable companies will have a strong online presence, with positive reviews and a transparent history. Before booking, conduct thorough research and check for customer testimonials or Google the name of the website to see if there are any reports of a scam connected to it.
- Requests for Personal Information or Payments: Legitimate travel companies will only ask for the necessary information to process your booking. If you encounter requests for personal information not related to your booking or for upfront payments through unusual methods like wire transfers, it's a red flag.
- Check the URL: Is someone trying to impersonate a legitimate company? Make sure the company name is spelt correctly and check the domain; retail sites rarely use .org for example. Check sites like Trustpilot for reviews or to see if people have reported an issue with the site before related to scams.
- Make sure you have a secure connection. Check the address starts with https:// and ensure the padlock symbol is shown next to the URL.
- Lack of Contact Information or Customer Support: Reputable companies will have readily available contact information, including a physical address and phone number. If you can't find this information or have difficulty reaching a customer support representative, be cautious.
Two types of holiday scams to be aware of
Let’s look at two of the main scams that people fall victim to, so you are one step ahead of the fraudsters.
1. Accommodation fraud
From Airbnb to Vrbo, there are lots of legitimate websites that list properties available to rent in the UK and abroad. Unfortunately, not all of the listings that appear on these websites are genuine. A small proportion of them are fake vacation rental listings that mimic the look and feel of legitimate listings.
Accommodation fraud scammers often steal high-quality photos and craft descriptions that appeal to our aspirations for spacious, well-equipped vilas and apartments. They might even create fake profiles with fictitious names, photos, and feedback from seemingly satisfied guests.
2. Holiday cancellation scams
If you’re unfortunate enough to have a holiday or flight cancelled, you’re in a vulnerable position as you’re likely to be angry and impatient to be refunded. Sadly scammers can easily find out about cancelled holidays by browsing social media and then target you.
They might pretend to be from the company you booked with or from a third party company that handles refunds. They’ll usually ask for all your personal details and might take your card details in order to process the return, which doesn’t come through, and then use your card details to make fraudulent transactions, trying to spend as much of your money as they can. Never give out card details on the phone.
And if a phone call is suspicious, hang up and do a Google search for the holiday company you booked with. This is the only way to ensure you’re talking to genuine employees and not people pretending to be employees.
How to safely book a holiday and avoid holiday scams
To avoid holiday scams, it’s important to stay one step ahead of the scammers. Now you know how they might try to trick you you can take steps to protect yourself.
Here are some ways to look after yourself online:
- Make payments using secure payment servers and try to use a credit card.
Never click on an external link to pay or tell anyone your card details. Reputable websites will have secure payment gateways, which involve encryption and secure servers, safeguarding your financial information and preventing identity theft. Furthermore, it’s best to use a credit card rather than a debit card as credit card companies allow you to dispute the charges and seek a refund if your booking turns out to be a scam.
- Book direct from reputable hotels or trusted websites that have plenty of reviews.
Booking directly with a hotel will save you having to go to a third-party website, which is always more risky. To be able to fully trust a website, look for over a thousand reviews. Scammers are unlikely to have had time to create more than a few hundred fake reviews, so you can put more faith in websites that have a lot of customer feedback as a rule.
The same goes for Airbnb. Look carefully at how many reviews a rental has. Then verify that the address exists through web searches and online maps. Do the images match those on the advert? If dealing with the property owner, ask them about the property and the area in detail. Can you confirm that what they tell you is accurate from your own research?
- Thinking of a package holiday? Make sure it’s ATOL / ABTA protected.
The bottom line is that if something sounds too good to be true, then it usually is. Don’t be so dazzled by finding the perfect villa or a gorgeous glamping spot that you skip doing some additional research to make sure everything is genuine.
Stay safe and avoid holiday scams with HyperJar
The HyperJar app is one of the best things you can carry in your pocket, or wherever else you keep your phone, to help you stay vigilant when you’re spending abroad. For example, you can turn on spending notifications to see all card transactions in real time, which can alert you immediately if the card has been compromised. In a couple of clicks in the app, you can freeze your card to keep your money safe.
You can also add or block any merchant. This is a great way to prevent unauthorised transactions.
And finally, using your HyperJar card when on holiday abroad is a lot safer than carrying cash as you can simply freeze the card if you lose it and thieves won’t be able to access your money. The card also allows you to avoid conversion fees that occur when you change sterling into the local currency. When you use HyperJar abroad, you'll get Mastercard's best exchange rate with no additional fees. This can save you a lot of money, especially if you're spending time in a country with a different currency.
If you’re planning on going on holiday anytime soon, you could also check out our other articles about keeping money safe while travelling.