how to prevent holiday fraud

<span>A dream holiday on a Greek island can turn into a nightmare if your accommodation turns out not to exist.</span><span>Photo: NurPhoto/Getty Images</span>” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/ e56f66cabcdc” data-src= “–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/ 66cabcdc”/></div>
<p><figcaption class=A dream holiday on a Greek island can turn into a nightmare if your accommodation turns out not to exist.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 villa you and your family were to spend the next two weeks in – and on which you spent £5,000 – simply does not exist?

Some vacationers are poised to find themselves in exactly that position this summer, and many more vacations will be ruined when people realize they’ve been scammed before even leaving for the airport.

Action Fraud estimates that holiday scams cost British tourists £15 million a year, but the real figure is likely much higher.

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


As more and more people choose to create their own holidays – organizing accommodation and flights separately – fraudsters are finding new opportunities to target victims.

They are so successful that none of the major online booking sites – Airbnb,, Expedia and Vrbo – are immune to fraud. When you book a holiday, you should be careful.


Scammers typically post fake property listings, complete with glamorous photos that have been faked or stolen from a legitimate listing. They will then price them below market and sit back and wait for the applications to come in.

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

The scammers’ goal is to get you to communicate outside these channels, usually via email or WhatsApp. The appeal is a lower price, or dates you were initially told were unavailable suddenly become possible – but only if you book “instantly” and pay in advance and in full via bank transfer.

Don’t be tempted. If an owner asks to communicate outside 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 looks. Go to your chosen advertising website and log in. If the email is genuine, the same message will appear there. If not, it’s probably a scammer.

When it comes to payments, it’s the same story. One of the reasons Airbnb became so successful is because of its internal payment system. The host only gets paid when you check in.

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

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

We can’t stress this enough: stick to the in-house card-based payment system and use a credit card and not a debit card because of the extra protection it offers.

Several old-fashioned accommodation providers still require payment directly into the owner’s bank account. If your dream destination is one, you are in a dilemma.

If you’ve been there before and trust the owner – and you’ve called to make sure it’s them you’ve been communicating with, and not an imposter – then you may decide to go ahead. Keep in mind that if things go wrong, you probably won’t see your money again.

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

Scammers always want to pressure you to part with your money quickly.

They will warn that the property will be rented to someone else unless you commit immediately, or offer a 20% “immediate payment discount”. These are all warning signs.

Never send a bank transfer without speaking to the owner first. If you have even the slightest doubt, back away. I would never send a bank transfer for a property I had not been to before. I don’t think it’s worth the risk.

Package offers

Booking a package deal is generally the safer option, but you should still be wary if you use a small company you’ve never heard of.

Keeping an eye out for official logos on the travel agency’s website is the order of the day. If your supplier falls under Atol, you are fully protected if one of the travel suppliers goes bankrupt or cancels.

Check the Atol website for confirmation. You can search by company name or Atol number to make sure it is really registered.

It’s the same story with Abta protection of travel agents. In the past some dodgy travel agents have shown the Atol and Abta logos but were not part of either plan – so check this. Travelers to Mecca and on other religious trips should be particularly wary, as this is often targeted by scammers.

Once you have booked a holiday and are confident that you are protected by Atol, make sure you receive your Atol certificate.

Free flight giveaways

Receive an email, text or WhatsApp message out of the blue with an unmissable deal or giveaway on your favorite airline? It’s almost certainly a scam.

In 2022, a WhatsApp message advertising the Emirates Airlines 2022 Vacation Giveaway attracted a lot of people. It offered the chance to win one of 5,000 free return flights. Airlines don’t give away free flights randomly, especially in August.

After booking

If you have made a reservation on the website, be aware that the company is being targeted by scammers.

As a result, customers have been receiving messages, both by email and in the app, stating that their booking is at risk of being canceled unless they confirm their credit card details. Because it comes from the internal email system – and contains the exact booking details – it has brought many people’s attention.

It has recently emerged that Expedia customers have been affected by the same scam. Do not follow the newly sent payment links. Instead, call or email the hotel directly. You will probably find that your booking is in order and paid for.

Before your flight

Beware of fake customer service accounts. Criminals are increasingly creating fake social media accounts that imitate those of real companies or organizations, claiming to be able to help with refunds or issues.

For example, tweet Ryanair to ask for a flight time and you could be contacted by a fraudster hoping to get your personal details. They will usually ask you to send them a direct message with your details, while 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 handful of followers and a somewhat strange name including punctuation. If you’re still unsure, search for the real account – it usually has a lot of followers and will likely have a link on the airline’s website – and see if it answered you.

When you get home

It may sound unlikely, but you are not safe from fraudsters even after you return from your holiday – especially if you have had a problem and contacted a travel provider to make a complaint.

Be wary of fraudulent emails that look like they are from the tour company and invite you to claim a refund. They usually link to a fake website and are designed to steal your personal and financial information. If you are expecting such a message, you may be letting your guard down.

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

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