When is a bargain not a bargain? When it doesn’t exist in the first place?

As we head through the glorious days of July and beyond, times in the travel industry are (as always happens!) getting very busy with people on the lookout for last minute summer holiday bargains. You know how it is. Recessionary pressures mean you are hunting for a bargain. Or perhaps the planned extra work failed to materialise so you’ll have to book a holiday for a family of four before someone gets really, really cross!

But seeking bargain holidays can be fraught with danger, as the experts at GetSafeOnline.org and ABTA issue a timely warning that UK Internet users are taking unnecessary risks and even ignoring basic online fraud-prevention measures as they hunt down that bargain break. They are laying themselves open to fraud by unscrupulous rogue traders. In the worst cases, they might even risk all by sending their money to pay for a holiday that never existed in the first place.

Get Safe Online has undertaken some new research which showed that (worryingly) nearly 30% of Internet users who book holidays online never even bother to check the authenticity of the firm they are dealing with (checking out if they are ATOL/ABTA registered, for example) before sending their payment.

Some don’t even bother to establish if the web page is secure before they enter payment details, thus putting themselves at risk of payment fraud on their card. Did you know that 1 in 5 (that’s 22%) don’t bother to do this?

Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, government security minister said: “Many will be looking for last-minute holidays and the Internet can provide a great way of shopping around for bargains. However, in your rush to book a holiday you should ensure you aren’t falling victim to online crime by taking basic steps to protect yourself. Get Safe Online.org provides trustworthy advice and information on online fraud and scams as well as how to ensure you have the right kinds of protection on your computer”.

Tony Neate, the MD over at GetSafeOnline.org, points out the following: “When we’ve been working hard the rest of the year, for most people, ensuring we have a great summer holiday is important. Fraudsters recognise this and play on people’s desires, we get caught up in the excitement of a ‘bargain dream holiday’ and cautiousness goes out of the window.

“When things don’t add up, that’s when you really need to do your research. For example, if you decide to rent a villa or holiday home from an individual and they don’t provide a contact telephone number or don’t respond to calls, and demand for full payment upfront by cheque in the post or wire transfer, then you should be careful. For private rentals, this may be the only way they can take payment, but it does make them almost impossible to track.”

The fact basic fraud-prevention measures are overlooked becomes even more of a worry with the research also pointing up that many holiday makers are unaware of the most common scams, for example, 67% of people say they’ve never heard of holiday rental scams, 68% hadn’t a clue about bogus holiday sites, and 81% said they were unfamiliar with ‘gap-year’ fraud.

1 in 5 (22%) say they’ve been approached with holiday deals or villa rentals via unsolicited emails, phones calls or SMS text messages from individuals or organisations they don’t know, that’s another area where caution is advisable.

But GetSafeOnLine doesn’t want you to avoid the Internet altogether. Mike Monk, head of financial services at ABTA makes the following point: “Booking your holiday online is a great way of finding unique locations and experiences, as well as often being faster, more convenient and offering value for money. However, with the online travel industry worth many millions each year, it’s inevitable that fraudsters will follow the money trail.

“But by being aware of the risks, knowing the ‘tell-tale’ signs to look out for and taking some basic prevention measures, there’s no reason why holidaymakers cannot enjoy the benefits of booking online. That’s why ABTA is partnering with Get Safe Online today to encourage people to follow our top advice for staying safe online.”

“Online criminals are tricking bargain hunters out of their money with fake holiday offers”, concludes Caroline Hodson, director at GetSafeOnline.org. “No matter how attractive some of the offers look, it’s important to always do your research before you book your holidays online.”
For detailed, step-by-step advice, visit www.getsafeonline.org.

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