How to spot and avoid travel scams

Woman on the phone to a travel scammer

If travel companies announce they’re going under, it can be a worrying time for consumers.

When a travel company goes out of business, scammers often quickly start emailing, texting and calling people under the guise of refunding their money.

The most obvious sign that you’ve been targeted by a scam is that you’re 100% certain that you haven’t booked or used a service by the company the scammers claim they are calling from – even if they claim otherwise.

However, if you have booked a holiday with a travel company which has been declared bankrupt, here are the warning signs that you’re being targeted by fraudsters and not legitimate customer service agents.

  • The email or text you receive asks you to act urgently – it may say something along the lines of ‘We can only help you get your refund this week – so act now!’
  • If it’s a written message, it may be full of grammatical mistakes or the tone may not be what you’d normally expect from the company
  • If it’s a phone call, the person on the end of the phone can’t confirm they’re calling from a certain company and can’t give you any details about the holiday you’ve booked
  • They ask for personal details, or the long number on the front of your card and your three-digit security number
  • They ask you to confirm whole passwords – not just give a single letter, number or symbol from a password or memorable word

What can you do if you think you’ve been targeted by a travel scam?

It depends on whether you have or haven’t responded to a text, email or phone call.

If you haven’t yet responded to a communication from someone claiming to be the travel company you booked with, here’s what you can do.

  • Ignore all requests to act quickly – a genuine company offering you a refund for your holiday will let you take your time, and genuine refunds can take months to sort out
  • Don’t give any information to the people contacting you – not even the dates of your holiday and where you were planning on going. A genuine travel company will know these details
  • Get a friend or family member to look over texts or emails. Do they look genuine, or do they set alarm bells ringing?
  • Don’t click on any links within the messages – save the messages, but don’t interact with them in any way
  • Contact your bank– they can help to confirm whether such communication is genuine or not
  • If your bank can confirm the messages are genuine, Google the company and instigate any conversations by calling them on their official phone number(s)
  • If your bank confirms the messages aren’t genuine, report the scammer’s details to ActionFraud

Here’s what you can do if you’ve already given a potential scammer your details, including your banking details.

  • Contact your bank as soon as possible to report the scam
  • Report the scam to ActionFraud
  • Don’t communicate any more with the original scammers, or people who start contacting you offering to refund the money you’ve lost during the scam. It’s likely they’re the same people trying to scam you again

Don’t rely on your travel company to help you in any way – even though their social media accounts may still be in use (for example, providing information for people who need to be repatriated), it’s unlikely they can help people who need to claim their money back.

How to claim money back from a bankrupt travel company

If you’ve booked a trip with a travel company which has stopped trading, here’s how you can give yourself the best chance of reclaiming your money back.

Getting a refund on a package holiday:

  • If you booked a package holiday, it will have been sold with an ATOL guarantee
  • This protects you from losing your money if the company goes under, or being stranded abroad if you’re away when the company ceases trading
  • The ATOL guarantee will cover the cost of your accommodation abroad, although you may have to move to a different hotel or apartment. They will also cover the cost of your flight home
  • If your airline has gone under, the date and time of your flight home may have changed – you will be given an alternative flight home, but you may not be able to choose the time and date
  • You could potentially face a long wait to get your money back – it could take over two months. This is because lots of other people will all be claiming as well, and there’ll be a backlog of claims

Getting a refund on a flight or separately-booked accommodation

If you’ve booked a flight-only deal or just accommodation, you will have to ask your bank or credit card provider for a refund.

You’re more likely to get a refund if you bought your holiday using a credit card, as you’re covered by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. This is because your credit card provider has an equal responsibility to make sure you’re not out of pocket if your travel company collapses.

If you used a debit card, you may be able to get a refund by using Chargeback.

If you have purchased travel insurance, you can also contact your insurer to see if they’ll cover the cost of your holiday. It will depend on the kind of policy you’ve bought; the policy’s terms and conditions will provide more details.

Look for the section on ‘scheduled airline failure’ or ‘provider failure’ as this is the section which will show if you’re covered or not. This isn’t a common feature for travel insurance policies – it tends to only be included if you’ve bought a ‘premium’ policy. Your insurer will be able to tell you if you’re entitled to a refund, so it’s best to contact them directly for more information.

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