More than 20 cases of travel fraud have been reported to a North East police force as officers warn holidaymakers to beware of con artists as summer approaches.
A new report reveals fraudsters conned travellers out of £11.5 million in 2015 through airline tickets, online accommodation and timeshare.
ABTA, the City of London Police and Get Safe Online have joined forces to warn the public about the dangers posed by holiday booking fraud.
According to their report, there has been a rise of almost 425% in the amount reported lost to travel fraudsters - up to £11.5 million in 2015 from £2.2 million in 2014 – although part of the increase is likely to be due to the crime previously going unreported.
In Durham, alone, police saw 21 cases reported with a total loss of £18,578
The most common fraud type relates to the sale of airline tickets and there has also been a large increase in the number of owner accounts being hacked into on popular sharing accommodation websites.
Losses to the individual can be substantial with the average loss being almost £3,000. Losses are not just financial, with almost half of victims - 44% - saying that the fraud had also had a significant impact on their health.
There are distinct spikes of reported fraud in the summer months and in December, indicating fraudsters are targeting holidaymakers and people booking last-minute flights home for Christmas.
The age group most commonly targeted is those aged between 30 and 49, many of whom will have young families.
The majority of those who are defrauded pay by methods such as bank transfer or cash with no means of getting their money back.
City of London Police Commander Chris Greany, police national coordinator for Economic Crime, said: “We live in a world where we are under pressure to get things done quickly. "However, when booking a holiday it is vitally important you take your time and follow a number of basic checks designed to protect you from falling victim to a fraud.
“These include researching the name of the company online you are considering using and ensuring it is a member of a recognised trade body.
"It is also key that you make sure the website is legitimate by carefully checking the domain name and pay with a credit card rather than using a debit card or cash.
"Follow these guidelines and you should be able to look forward to a happy holiday while at the same time thwarting fraudsters’ increasingly sophisticated efforts to get their hands on money you have put aside to pay for that much needed break.
“If you do happen to fall victim to a holiday booking fraud you need to report it to Action Fraud so the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau can analyse what has happened, identify potential suspects and refer the case on to a local police force for investigation.”
Victims should contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or register via www.actionfraud.police.uk.
Free expert advice on how to stay safe when booking or researching travel online can be found via www.getsafeonline.org/shopping-banking/holiday-and-travel-booking/