Tourists are losing millions to crooks tricking them into booking online for nonexistent holidays.
The fraudsters lure customers with fake websites that are built with photos and descriptions stolen from genuine pages.
Nearly 6,000 Britons lost £7.2million to such scams last year, a rise of 20% on 2015.
Nick Cooper, of holiday firm Villa Plus, has uncovered thousands of lifted listings for his properties on bogus sites.
He said: “These fake websites continue to scam innocent people, nearly two years after they first appeared. There seems to be little effort on the part of the authorities to catch these criminals.
“Consumers have so much ability these days to source their own holidays, which makes them far greater targets for the scammers. It really pays to do your research first, or you could be seriously out of pocket.”
Many crooks set up a pay-per-click arrangement with Google for key words like “Balearic villas”, meaning their fake pages are listed at the top of the search engine results. Some also hijack accounts on genuine websites like Airbnb, Owners Direct and HomeAway through phishing scams.
Victims tend to realise they have been duped after paying up before all contact dries up.
Many arrive at the properties to find them occupied by genuine firms’ customers.
Charlotte Banks, 35, of Horley, Surrey, was looking forward to a hen party last year after a group of pals rented a house in Cornwall via Owners Direct. Disaster struck with 10 days to go when she called the home owner – only to find they had no record of the booking.
She said: “The home owner was a victim of phishing and had his emails hacked by a fraudster who intercepted my friend’s online enquiry via the booking form.
“He then replied pretending to be the home owner and eventually my friend handed over the best part of £1,500 to him. My friend reported it to the police and the fraud department at her bank, but there was nothing they could do.”
The Association of British Travel Agents said its members felt “real anger” about the issue.
An ABTA spokesman added: “Not only do these unscrupulous individuals rip off unwitting holidaymakers, they also damage confidence in the booking process.”
- Have you been the victim of a holiday fraud? Send an email to the address below.
How to beat villa fraudsters
- Check the web address is legitimate and has not been altered by slight changes to a domain name – such as going from .co.uk to .org.
- Don’t just rely on one review – do a thorough online search to check the firm’s credentials.
- Check if the firm is a member of a recognised trade body such as ABTA. If you have any doubts, you can check online at www.abta.com.
- Never pay directly into a private individual’s bank account. The cash is very difficult to trace and non-refundable. If possible, pay by credit card or a debit card.
- Check paperwork. You should study receipts and invoices, as well as terms and conditions. Be very wary of any companies that don’t provide any.
- Reverse image search. Right click on the image of the villa and then on “search Google for image”. If it’s a fake, this will help you locate the genuine website.
- Victims should contact Action Fraud on website actionfraud.police.uk.