In 2015 alone, £11.5 million was lost to holiday-related scams as a result of 4910 number of cases reported to ABTA and Action Fraud. Despite these figures – that are released yearly – recent data from I-PRAC has highlighted the fact that many cases continue to go unreported, and that well-known organisations and local authorities continue to be unaware of the next steps available to those who are victims of scams.
One story in particular stands out from that year. In August 2015, Russell and his family were told – in no uncertain terms – that they had been victims of a holiday rental scam, and had lost almost £3,000 at the hands of fraudsters.
It all began when the family received an email from their holiday rental provider saying that the property in Costalita, Spain was no longer available due to repossession, and that they would receive their money back as soon as possible. Russell said: “What this meant was that we then had to look for alternative accommodation very last minute during March and April, which we knew were peak holiday booking times.” Being used to booking far in advance – and keen to visit the Costalita again as they do every year as a family – Russell accepted the refund in trepidation, as time was running out to book something that could accommodate their whole family.
The family scanned the internet as quickly as possible, looking to find accommodation that was available during the same time period in August that they had originally booked for. What they found was a beautiful villa in the Costalita, available at the perfect time, with a discount incentive urging them to book now without delay. They accepted, and began looking forward to their holiday.
The online methods of fraudsters
Once confirmation of the booking was received, and a receipt was given, there was a long period of time where no communication took place between Russell and the accommodation provider. That was, until four days prior to leaving for the Costalita, the family received an email that claimed the property was no longer available because they had been scammed.
The reality was that Russell and his family had been scammed out of £2,800 due to a sophisticated online scam.
“There was absolutely nothing that stood out immediately to us to say that it was a scam. It was so last minute, and it seemed like a reasonable deal with realistic pricing; not too cheap or too expensive – we just thought we would go for it and then get on with our holiday.”
“There were always lots of properties available in the area, so it never seemed out of the ordinary to have a wealth of choice at your fingertips.”
The site in question had appeared high up in the search engine results, and effectively targeted keywords and phrases related to the Costalita and specific resorts in the area. The only thing in hindsight that Russell wish he had of picked up on, is the lack of security status on the website that the family booked on. In this instance, there was no padlock to indicate that the website is secure, and that the data a user provides within is private. Users are advised not to share any private information on websites without a secure padlock in the URL box.
Upon receiving the email from the fraudsters, one of the first things that Russell and his family did was contact the UK’s national fraud reporting service, Action Fraud, who told them there were numerous victims of the same type of fraud within the Costalita resort. One holidaymaker had even booked 30 family members and friends on a holiday, only to find out it was a scam.
“Members of my family even went back to speak to the local police and they told her there was nothing at all that they could do.”
The reality of the situation was even more of a shock. Some holidaymakers had lost £20,000+ thanks to a similar property listing on the Costalita, highlighting that the fraudsters were specifically targeting those that were loyal to popular resorts, in particular those who were going every year – as they were a ‘safe bet’.
“The more we delved into it, the more we found out. But unfortunately there was nothing we could do about the money we had lost. Because we had booked it through a debit card there were complications with reimbursing the money, and because the payment had been made from a Spanish bank account that wasn’t under our name – but under the name of our direct family members – there were problems with getting it back.
“There were a lot of tears when we found out, from everyone. We had lost a lot of money, but there was nothing we could do about it.”
Luckily, the family had found elsewhere to go to ensure their holiday wasn’t entirely ruined, and their extended family – who were already in the country – were able to verify that it existed for them prior to taking the flight. But that doesn’t mean that the family weren’t aware of the risks.
“We look forward to this holiday all year round with our family, but now we only book holidays with independent property owners that we know are from the Costalita, or who have been verified by our family members – who live out there – as legitimate. From now on I’ll always look out for those warning signs that a website is a fake, and I’ll always second guess that the person I am speaking with is the actual property owner.”
A word from I-PRAC
At I-PRAC, it’s our mission to improve the trust between holidaymakers and independent property owners and agencies. This is something in particular that has been tested in recent years, particularly due to the consistency of in the number of fraudulent cases reported across the globe.
The way we do that is by conducting thorough checks of owners and agencies so that travellers, like Russell, don’t have to. Our in-depth approval process means that no stone is left unturned when it comes to ensuring an independent property owner or agency is legitimate. Similarly, thanks to our register your booking initiative, all holidaymakers and travellers are able to register their booking with an I-PRAC member to stay safe in the knowledge they will not be scammed out of thousands.
Chris Maughan, Founder & CEO of I-PRAC, said: “Stories like Russell’s are becoming all to common in the holiday rental industry, and it’s our mission to ensure the industry is preserved and successful for those that operate independently and legitimately.”
To find out more about registering your booking with an I-PRAC approved member, visit our register your booking page, and start benefiting from a secure post-booking experience unlike any other.
If you’re a holiday property owner or agency, for further information on how to become an I-PRAC approved member, visit our approval page.