They are promising big discounts for paying a rental bill upfront and in full – and insisting that any bill is paid by bank transfer. Also, they only communicate by email.
Some of the scams include the sale of fake airline tickets – especially for travel to Africa and India.
As the summer holiday season approaches, families are being warned to be on their guard against such ploys as new figures confirm a dramatic rise in booking fraud – leaving many out of pocket and with no holiday to look forward to.
It is feared travellers are particularly vulnerable this year as the travel industry is reporting strong booking demand with both accommodation and flights at a premium.
Fraudsters are expected to take advantage by offering seemingly bargain deals which some holidaymakers will be unable to resist.
The City of London Police National Fraud Intelligence Bureau launched its latest campaign to beat bogus holiday companies this week.
The campaign is being run in conjunction with the Association of British Travel Agents and information website Get Safe Online.
It reveals nearly 6,000 victims lost £7.2 million last year to fraudsters, a rise of 20 per cent on 2015.
But campaigners warn this is just the tip of the iceberg. Too often, embarrassment at being duped means those affected fail to report a scam.
In the last few weeks, The Mail on Sunday has highlighted numerous cases of holidaymakers being defrauded after booking properties online via website Airbnb.
Believing they were paying for a stay in a genuine holiday home, they then discovered that crooks had in fact hijacked the account of the real property owner. Victims included the Gilmour family from London who lost £5,000; the Joneses from Solihull who parted with £2,500; and the Reeds, who were defrauded of more than £850.
All the families paid bogus owners on the popular Airbnb website. Since then the US-based accommodation giant has tightened up security in an effort to stamp out fraudsters.
Other scammers have set up convincing holiday booking websites to trap the unwary.
Among those already snared by such fraudsters include Julie and husband David (not their real names) who last month handed over £6,000 for a two-week summer stay in a Greek villa.
They had unwittingly used a bogus website ‘Greek Villa Escapes’. They were tempted by a 25 per cent discount for paying the full amount up front by bank transfer.
Julie says: ‘Despite asking many times by email for a contact phone number, the owner would never give one.
‘I also asked for my money back but despite promises it did not materialise.’
THE couple have now reported the company to Action Fraud, the official cyber crime agency, and booked another villa at the same destination through a legitimate website.
Julie adds: ‘I was nervous booking the new place but I did an internet search to make sure it existed. I then checked with Companies House that the company was genuine and asked the owner for a utility bill to prove ownership and address.
‘I also requested an up-to-date photo of the property. But our earlier experience means I will not be happy until we get there and we see the holiday property with our own eyes.’
The website she used for the first booking copied and edited photos and villa details from genuine websites and then passed them off as its own.
Nick Cooper runs long-established villa booking company Villa Plus. He has spent considerable time monitoring and reporting bogus holiday websites.
He says one of his company’s properties, the Orea Sea View villa in Crete, is currently being promoted by fraudsters as the Villa Rena.
Victims of accommodation booking scams are usually persuaded to pay by bank transfer. This, like cash payments, offers no protection.
Although UK banks will attempt to recover money lost as a result of such frauds, it is often fruitless.
According to industry organisation Financial Fraud Action UK, fraudsters will often use so-called ‘mule’ accounts. In these cases, a genuine bank account holder is promised a cut of any fraudulent payment that is processed through their account – a crime that can result in a ten-year prison sentence.
The City of London Police awareness campaign is also highlighting the health issues that can follow such frauds.
Its research indicates that one in four victims have suffered health or financial issues with hundreds needing medical treatment or facing bankruptcy.
Steve Proffitt of Action Fraud, who is heavily involved in the campaign, says: ‘By raising awareness we hope people will feel better able to protect themselves from fraud.’
Other holiday-related frauds include the sale of fake airline tickets – especially for travel to Africa and India.
Also targeted are sports and religious trips (such as the Ashes cricket tour and Hajj pilgrimage), timeshares and holiday clubs.