Avoid travel website scams

Esther Shaw / 21 September 2015

Don't get caught out by fake websites offering holidays that don't exist or flight tickets that never arrive with our tips to avoid online travel scams.



With the children back to school, now is a great time to take advantage of the drop in holiday prices. Many people will be going online to book last-minute breaks abroad and tick tasks off their pre-travel “to-do” list.

If you are planning on doing your holiday preparation online, you need to be on your guard, as lots of travellers are getting duped by fake travel websites, and handing over their hard-earned cash for dream holidays that do not exist, or plane tickets that never arrive.

Beware of holiday booking fraud

New findings in a report compiled by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) reveal that criminals stole an estimated £2.2 million from unsuspecting holidaymakers and other travellers in 2014.

Here are six dangers to watch out for:

1. Spoof accommodation websites

One of the most common types of scam involves fraudsters hacking into the accounts of owners on well-known accommodation sites, or spoofing these websites with convincing bogus imitations.

People who book through these sites will then find the villas and apartments they thought they had booked and paid for are non-existent, or had never been booked.

In the worst case scenario, victims may not get a refund or a place to stay.

Find out about scams which target holidaymakers abroad.

2. Scam caravan sites

Anyone booking a caravan stay is also warned that adverts for non-existent accommodation are being posted on sites such as Facebook, Gumtree and Craigslist.

3. Fake airline tickets

Holidaymakers need to be extra careful when booking plane tickets, as unless you have bought from a trusted and reputable source, there is a risk you could receive a fake ticket or hand over money for a ticket that never turns up.

4. Watch out for holiday club cons

With holiday club scams, victims often get a phone call or email telling them that they have ‘won’ a holiday, but they have to attend a meeting to collect their prize. When they go to collect their free holiday, they are pressured into signing up for a timeshare.

Another sting in the tail is that the ‘free holiday’ sometimes only includes accommodation and ‘winners’ have to book expensive flights through the company running the competition.

5. Don’t get duped by copycat EHIC sites

If you are heading to Europe on holiday, it is well worth applying for a European Health Insurance Card or EHIC, as this will entitle you to state-provided healthcare at a reduced cost, or sometimes for free.

But it’s important not to get duped into paying a fee for one of these cards, as you can apply yourself for free.

A host of unofficial sites will offer to help you through the application process for a cost which could be £25 or more.

There is no need to hand over any cash, as you can apply for a card for free at the official NHS site.

6. Watch out for rogue passport websites

Anyone applying for a new passport also needs to take care not to get caught out a by a copycat website, as these sites will charge a premium for your application compared to the official body.

Many of these rogue websites have sprung up, deliberately designed to mimic the official channels, and fail to explain clearly that their charges are on top of those levied by the Government agencies.

Read more about fake websites pretending to be official Government sites. 

Tips to avoid getting caught out by a scam

  • Check the web address is legitimate – and ensure it has not been altered by slight changes to a domain name, such as going from .co.uk. to .org.

  • Always check the authenticity of travel providers before booking a holiday online and parting with any cash. Do a thorough online search to check the company’s credentials. Bad feedback – or no feedback at all – should raise alarm bells and warn you to steer clear.

  • Look to see if the holiday provider is a member of an organisation, such as Abta. You can verify membership of Abta here. Also check the authenticity of rental villas with the agent directly.

  • Never pay money directly into someone’s bank account. Where possible, pay by credit card – or with a debit card that offers protection. What is Section 75 protection? Find out here.

  • Take the time to check all the receipts, invoices and Ts and Cs – and be very wary of any companies that don’t provide any paperwork.

  • Trust your instincts: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

  • If you fall victim to a travel-related fraud, you should contact Action Fraud on (0300) 123 2040 or ActionFraud.police.uk.

Going away? Read our tips to keep your home safe and secure.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.