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Three Ways to Avoid Fraud When Booking Travel Online

Aug 15, 2008
Thousands of UK consumers are victims of web fraud every year after booking bogus flights or holidays online.

Earlier this year a gang of internet fraudsters was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud after swindling 6 million pounds from innocent holiday makers. The gang had taken-over five legitimate holiday firms in London during a three year period. They then traded under various names, including Ciao Travel and Orange Sun Ltd, and advertised cheap holidays that did not exist.

The scam was only discovered when a terrorist alert halted all flights from the UK. Significant numbers of passengers checked their flights and accommodation and became aware that no bookings had been made for them. The authorities initiated a full scale investigation soon after.

ABTA - the Travel Association advises UK consumers to take three simple steps to ensure they are not a victim of fraud when booking travel on the internet.

1 Check whether your travel company is an ABTA member on the ABTA website.

This association of travel agents and tour operators aims to ensure that holiday-makers receive choice, value and quality. All members adhere to a Code of Conduct, with breaches being reported and resolved. ABTA publishes a Code of Conduct specifically for online travel companies entitled 'Standards on Websites and Online Trading'.

Look for your travel company's ATOL logo and number. ATOL is a Government guaranteed financial protection scheme for UK tour operators. This protects over 28 million consumers every year. You can check if your travel company is included on the Civil Aviation Authority website.

2 Make sure you've got the right paperwork. When you have booked and paid for your flight or holiday online you should receive a confirmation document outlining the travel arrangements and the money you have paid.

When you're just booking a flight, make sure you get either an ATOL Confirmation or the airline's ticket or flight confirmation immediately.

Check that the payee names on the paperwork match with who you have paid and check your bank and credit card statements for names and amounts.

If you book additional travel services direct with a tour operator, make sure that you receive separate receipts detailing company names and amounts paid.

Keep all documentation relating to your holiday booking in case of future problems.

3 Find out if your travel arrangements are financially protected if your travel company goes out of business. Many travel arrangements provided by ABTA members are protected. If not, ABTA members can offer low-cost insurance policies to cover consumers.

UK travellers who book package holidays or flights through travel agents are automatically protected by two statutory schemes. The Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tour Regulations 1992 require the organisers of package holidays to protect your money and bring you home if necessary. If your package includes a flight then you will be protected under the ATOL scheme.

The Civil Aviation (Air Travel Organisers' Licensing) Regulations 1995 require tour operators who sell flight-only deals to protect your money and get you home if necessary.

If you book your flight directly with the airline or book accommodation-only, there is no legal requirement for your travel company to protect your money.

In the event of your travel agent going out of business, you should contact the relevant holiday company, airline or hotel to check that your booking is in place. If so, your trip should be able to go ahead unaffected.

If you suspect any criminal activity involving a travel website, contact the police. If you have a concern regarding an ABTA member or ATOL holder contact the ABTA Consumer Affairs Department or the CAA's ATOL Claims Department. Full contact details are available on their websites.

As with any goods or services paid for online, consumers should use their common sense and look out for anything suspicious.

All legitimate businesses will publish their full address, landline telephone number and email details. Do some research on the company if you have any concerns.

Does the offer seem too good to be true? If so, it probably is. Check the company policies on bookings, refunds and complaints.

When making a payment, use your credit card so that you can dispute the charge if you later discover the deal has been misrepresented. If you are spending more than 100 pounds and paying by credit card you should be covered by the Consumer Credit Act - which means if there is a problem you will be able to claim your money back. Check that you are entering your card details onto a secure site and keep your own security software up to date. The URL in your browser window should begin "https://" and a small padlock should appear at the bottom of your screen.

Beware of searching for cheap travel deals on internet auction sites - you will have little comeback if they turn out to be fraudulent. And look out for bogus holiday clubs - the alarm bells should start ringing if you receive a phone call telling you that you've won a free holiday.

Always remember that when you buy from a company online you have exactly the same consumer rights as when you shop on the high street in relation to faulty or badly described goods. Take a look at the government's Consumer Direct website for comprehensive information on your rights and tips to avoid scams. There are some great travel deals out there, and just taking a little care will ensure that you get a true bargain. Happy travelling!
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