How do you know whether a holiday booking website is safe or a potential scam?
Think you’re too smart to fall for an online holiday booking scam? Think again.
According to data from Action Fraud, there were 5,826 cases of online holiday booking scams last year - an almost 20% increase over 2015. And that’s only reported cases. Which means the real tally could be much higher.
It’s estimated that victims of online holiday fraud lost, on average, £1,200 each last year - a fairly sizeable chunk of money. What’s more troubling though, is that 259 people reported being at risk of bankruptcy or even having to seek medical treatment because they were scammed.
Luckily, avoiding a potential rip-off is easy if you know what to look out for. Here are some of the telltale signs that you might be dealing with an online fraud.
Unnecessary website redirects
One of the first warning signs that something isn’t quite right is getting redirected from one website to another.
Changes can be fairly obvious - redirecting to a completely different website address, for instance. Most of the time, though, the change is more subtle, such as a change in domain name from .co.uk to .net or .org.
You can check whether a website is legitimate by typing the address into a WHOIS lookup tool. In particular, look out for the date the domain was registered and how long until the registration expires. If the website’s been registered quite recently (less than a year), there’s a good chance it may be a scam.
The cost of flights, accommodation and tour packages is largely set by operators - airlines, hotels, local tour guides and so forth. So, while travel booking websites do have some leeway, there’s a limit to how much they can bring the price down without cutting into their profits.
It’s good to shop around before you go with a particular provider. This will give you an idea of the average cost of holidaying in a given destination, which makes it easier to spot suspicious offers.
Put simply, if a certain website is way cheaper than the rest, think twice. Don’t let yourself be blinded by the fear of missing out on a bargain. If you think it’s too good to be true, there’s a good chance you may be right.
You can only pay via bank transfer
This is a huge red flag, for two reasons.
Firstly, it suggests that no bank was prepared to offer the company a credit card processing facility. Obviously, this isn’t a good sign.
But even if there were a legitimate reason not to use a bank directly, there are really no excuses for an online merchant not to accept credit card payments. These days, there are loads of other alternatives. It’s very easy to set up a PayPal account and to embed a payment button on your website, for instance.
Secondly (and more importantly), bank transfers don’t offer the same protections as paying by credit card or using an online payment method like PayPal. Scammers know this, which is why they request payments via bank transfer. If you get scammed, it can be very difficult - if not impossible - to trace your money and get it back.
Low-fi or blurry trade association logos
Lack of trust in online merchants is a problem as old as the internet itself. Scammers try to get around this by putting a trade organisation’s trust mark on their website in order to look legitimate.
Reputable organisations like ABTA, the Association of British Travel Agents, have strict membership requirements. And they only allow fully paid up members to use their trust mark. As a result, the marks on scammers’ websites tend to be blurry or low quality, because they’ve been copied from somewhere else.
If you’re unsure of a company’s credentials, simply log on to the trade organisation’s website and run a search. Most organisations have free, fully searchable member directories precisely for this purpose. Some also have lists of known scams and companies that are using a trust mark without permission.
Bad reviews on other websites
Last but not least, do your research.
If a particular website has been scamming people, there’s a good chance a few victims have shared their negative experience online. An internet search costs nothing to do, but it could save you a lot of money and grief down the line.
Websites you can use to check for known scams include the Tripadvisor forums, Trustpilot and SiteJabber. Check as many different sources as you can, just in case some of the reviews are fake. It’s also worth checking out the company’s social media. Inactive, incomplete or non-existent accounts or a lot of negative comments are signs that you should proceed with caution.
Once you've booked your time away, make sure you keep hold of receipts and invoices, and read them carefully. For more information on booking your holiday safely, you can visit Get Safe Online.