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Action Fraud reports show £6.7 million lost to holiday booking fraud

 A report compiled by Action Fraud, which is run by the City of London Police, reveals the scale of reported crime and exposes the common tactics used by fraudsters. 

  • The City of London PoliceABTA and Get Safe Online join forces to combat holiday fraud.
  • Fraudsters stole £6.7 million from 4,700 unsuspecting holidaymakers and other travellers in 2017.
  • 575 people received medical treatment or were at risk of bankruptcy as a result.

The average amount lost per person was over £1,500, an increase of 25% year on year. These individual losses are substantial, but this form of fraud also has other severe effects with almost half (2,245) of victims saying that it also had a significant impact on their health or financial wellbeing. Most worryingly of all, 575 people said the impact on them was so severe that they had to receive medical treatment or were at risk of bankruptcy.

The most common types of fraud relate to the sale of airline tickets (47%) and accommodation booking (38%).

4,700 people told Action Fraud that they had been the victim of a travel related fraud in 2017. The three campaign partners believe that the actual figure is much higher, with many victims not realising that they should always report the fraud to Action Fraud. 

In common with previous years, the numbers of people reporting travel fraud jumps in the summer and in December. This is a very clear indication that fraudsters are targeting the peak holiday periods and people who are going home to visit friends and family. Fraudsters know that demand will be high and availability low, so good value bookings will be harder to find with customers on the lookout for reasonable prices.   

The visiting friends and family market is particularly attractive to fraudsters offering fake flight tickets and package arrangements. Fraudsters may also be targeting individuals travelling home to visit family in time for public or religious holidays. Where destinations were reported by victims, 54% said they had been intending to travel to Africa and 24% to Asia. 

Director of Action Fraud, Pauline Smith, said: 

“Holidays are the perfect chance to relax and unwind, however as this year’s statistics show, they are also an opportunity for fraudsters to trick you out of your hard-earned money. The startling emotional impact of falling victim to holiday fraud is highlighted in the latest figures, as 575 people reported that the harm to them was so severe, they had to receive medical treatment or were at risk of bankruptcy. This is why we are raising awareness so that people feel better able to protect themselves from being a victim of fraud. We know that fraudsters are increasingly using more sophisticated ways to trick their victims, which is why it is important that you do your research when making travel arrangements. If you think you have been a victim of fraud, contact Action Fraud.” 

Chief Executive of ABTA, Mark Tanzer, said: 

“ABTA sees first-hand the damage caused by travel fraudsters with many devastated customers who contact us for advice after they find out their much anticipated holiday or trip to visit loved ones may not actually exist. The cost to them is not just financial; this crime causes very real disappointment and emotional distress. However this does not need to happen. Check and follow the tips and advice on and you will not fall victim to these unscrupulous individuals. But if you are unlucky enough to do so, always report it to Action Fraud so that they can put these crooks out of business.”

Tony Neate of Get Safe Online, said:

“Holidays and trips abroad are one of the biggest purchases we’ll make each year so keep an eye out for tell-tale signs something isn’t quite as it seems. It can be quite tempting to get lured in by the offer of a cut price flight or a deal on accommodation when you are caught up in the excitement of booking a holiday. Small steps can stop you getting caught out by a holiday scam through such as researching the company you are booking through, especially ones that aren’t mainstream operators. Check well known review sites too so you can see what previous customers’ experiences have been and, where possible, pay by credit card to get extra protection in case anything does go wrong.”

In 2017, the most common types of holiday booking fraud reported to Action Fraud related to:

  • Holiday accommodation – fraudsters are making full use of the internet to con holidaymakers by setting up fake websites, hacking into legitimate accounts and posting fake adverts on websites and social media.  
  • Airline tickets – where a person believes they are booking a flight and receives a fake ticket or pays for a ticket that never turns up. In 2017, flights to Africa and the Indian sub-continent were particularly targeted. 
  • Sports and religious trips – a popular target for fraud due to limited availability of tickets and consequently higher prices.
  • Caravanning – Action Fraud reported a number of people reporting being the victim of fraud relating to mobile home holidays.

Top tips to avoid becoming a victim of travel fraud: 

  • Stay safe online: Check the web address is legitimate and has not been altered by slight changes to a domain name – such as going from to .org 
  • Do your research: Don’t just rely on one review – do a thorough online search to check the company’s credentials. If a company is defrauding people there is a good chance that consumers will post details of their experiences, and warnings about the company. 
  • Look for the logo: Check whether the company is a member of a recognised trade body such as ABTA. If you have any doubts, you can verify membership of ABTA online, at
  • Pay safe: Wherever possible, pay by credit card and be wary about paying directly into a private individual’s bank account.
  • Check documentation: You should study terms and conditions and be very wary of any companies that don’t provide any at all. When booking through a Holiday Club or Timeshare, get the contract thoroughly vetted by a solicitor before signing up.
  • Trust your instincts: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. 
  • Report it: Victims should contact Action Fraud.
  • Get free expert advice: For further advice on how to stay safe when booking or researching travel online, visit Get Safe Online.

Holiday fraud case studies

Georgia from Essex – Georgia is available for broadcast interviews

Georgia who is 21 and a Legal Secretary from Essex, was looking to take her boyfriend away to Amsterdam to celebrate his birthday. She found what looked like an ideal place to stay on a well- known accommodation website and paid over £915 by bank transfer directly into the apparent owner’s bank account. Shortly afterwards Georgia rechecked online to find no record of any payment being received. On contacting the website she was informed that she should have only have made payment through the website and not direct to the owner, in spite of the advert on the site stating that payment should be made direct to the owner and not warning to the contrary. Georgia immediately contacted her bank to see if anything could be done, luckily the bank managed to recover the money three months later but Georgia is very keen to share her story so that other people don’t go through the same experience as if she had left if any longer the money would not have been recovered. 

Jeremy from Bath 

Jeremy, a company director from Bath, booked a 21-day stay in the sun using a well-known accommodation rental website Airbnb. After trawling through hundreds of listings, the 46-year-old found the ideal property – a four-bedroom villa with a pool in Sicily. He clicked through to the host ‘Fabiola’, read more details and – as requested – paid the £4,000 to secure the booking. But Fabiola – and the property – were not as they seemed a fraudster had hijacked the account of a legitimate member and uploaded bogus property details. Jeremy says: ‘It was only when I received an email from the accommodation website a few days later warning me that someone had tried to communicate with me by private email rather than through the website that I realised something fishy might be going on. He received an email shortly afterwards from the apparent property owner providing the full address of the supposed property – but nothing further followed. Suspecting the worst, he contacted his bank to retrieve the payment. It was too late. The receiving account – in a bank in Cyprus – had been drained of funds.

John – Currently living in Copenhagen 

John booked a chalet in to go skiing in Austria through a legitimate looking upmarket accommodation website. After a week or so of confirming transactions and dates as well as signing a very believable piece of paperwork he was then asked to pay 50% upfront via a TransferWise transaction. After booking the chalet, the website went down temporarily and the person who confirmed my booking disappeared. Interestingly it all came back online and John was contacted again by same the person after John posted a negative review. The person contacted John to say that they would refund the money and asked for further details, which he gave. After waiting a week John contacted his bank who informed him no money was due to come in. John has to date received no refund of his money

Notes to editors

Spokespeople from either Action Fraud, ABTA or Get Safe Online will also be available for interview on 7 April as is a case study. Please contact Ellie Kiai on 07803 305417 to discuss options. 

Action Fraud is the UK’s national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre, providing a central point of contact for citizens and businesses. The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) also hosted by the City of London Police, acts upon the information and crimes reported to Action Fraud, developing and disseminating crime packages for investigation locally, regionally and nationally. The NFIB also execute a range of disruption and crime prevention techniques for victims across all sectors to target criminality and engineer out the threat from fraud and cyber crime.

ABTA has been a trusted travel brand for over 65 years. Our purpose is to help our Members to grow their businesses successfully and sustainably, and to help their customers travel with confidence. 

The ABTA brand stands for support, protection and expertise. This means consumers have confidence in ABTA and a strong trust in ABTA Members. These qualities are core to us as they ensure that holidaymakers remain confident in the holiday products that they buy from our Members. 

We help our Members and their customers navigate through today's changing travel landscape by raising standards in the industry; offering schemes of financial protection; providing an independent complaints resolution service should something go wrong; giving guidance on issues from sustainability to health and safety and by presenting a united voice to government to ensure the industry and the public get a fair deal.

ABTA currently has around 1,200 Members, with a combined annual UK turnover of £37 billion. For more details about what we do, what being an ABTA Member means and how we help the British public travel with confidence visit 


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