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Wednesday 2 March 2022

How to avoid being caught out by travel scams

Fraudsters and scammers are taking advantage of the huge post-pandemic eagerness to travel.

British consumer organisation Which? says it has discovered several new scams aimed at defrauding the unwary.

Tricksters are setting up bogus companies to sell imaginary flights and offering fake refunds to capture bank details and steal money, Which? warns.

It says the pandemic has provided multiple new opportunities for fraudsters to exploit victims.

Scammers are cold-calling travellers and impersonating airlines, travel agents and banks, claiming they need their bank details and personal information to process a refund.

But they are using the information they glean to steal money.

Which? says fraudsters have been taking detailed steps to appear to be the business they are imitating, including spoofing legitimate phone numbers and finding out booking details and exactly how much someone is owed.

Rogue travel companies are selling fake flights and others are promoting some of the most popular stays with scam adverts on social media, offering apparent late or peak-season availability for holidays that appear to be sold out elsewhere, Which? research found.

Customers are asked to click through to a website where they book and pay for a non-existent holiday.

Some unfortunate customers have not realised they have been defrauded until they turn up at the airport or or their accommodation.

The National Health Service in the UK has also been used by cybercriminals.

An email, containing a link to a website that looks like an official NHS platform, invites people to apply for a digital vaccine passport.

Which? says the email is in fact a phishing scam to steal personal information.

As fraudsters move swiftly to exploit new opportunities, Which? has called on online platforms, banks and telecoms companies to do more to ensure their systems aren’t being exploited to target victims.

Added essential travel paperwork which emerged from Covid and Brexit has also been used by unscrupulous companies to con people out of their money.

Which? has seen firms charging travellers as much as $150 (£75) for passenger locator forms, which can be obtained from the government for free.

When Which? carried out searches in November 2021, 19 non-governmental results were returned on the first two pages of Google alone - all charging a fee. Some appeared as an ad or ranked higher than the site.

Similarly, some companies are charging fees for the GHIC (Global Health Insurance Card), which is free and was introduced to replace the EHIC after Brexit.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “Criminals are exploiting the pandemic and the demand for holidays in a wide range of ways, laying new traps to trick unsuspecting travellers out of their money.

“Our advice for consumers is be wary of unsolicited calls and messages, and be cautious about holiday deals from unfamiliar firms.”

Which? recommended that online users should never click on links from unsolicited emails, and should check the ‘from’ address, contact information and copyright dates for signs of inconsistencies. Which applies equally in Australia and other jurisdictions. 

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