Scammers getting more devious, trade warned

By Neal Baldwin
26/01/2023
Home » Scammers getting more devious, trade warned

The rising tide of fraudulent bookings being made against agents has prompted industry bodies to warn that criminals are becoming more sophisticated and more devious in their methods.

Senior executives at ABTA have become increasing concerned that fraudsters seem to be putting more effort into making themselves sound like genuine customers or tour operators, using elaborate backstories and researching agents’ backgrounds to win their trust.

 “Fraud has been going on for years, but the change in the way people transact nowadays has opened up new opportunities,” admitted an ABTA spokesman. “The big rise has been in fraudsters posing as operators and citing things like personal details and ABTA numbers of agents – stuff that is publicly available – to trick them.”

It’s an issue that has been repeatedly highlighted by members of Travel Gossip’s Facebook page. Andy Dean, owner of Worldchoice agency Oasis Travel, Tunstall, Stoke on Trent, lost £2,500 to scammers recently after being plagued by dodgy callers.

He told Travel Gossip: “We had a spate of fraudsters, one who I am convinced was highlighted in that recording last week. All tried the friendly approach, saying they knew me, had booked before and were desperate because they’d been let down on existing bookings by other agents.

“I spotted one guy and went along with him. I kept saying each payment he tried had failed – he tried eight separate cards!

“In the end, one of my newer staff members got caught out. The scammer had all sorts of personal details about me like they were a friend. They even said they could hear me talking in the shop. These fraudsters are getting more sophisticated and researching us before they call. They are confidence tricksters.”

Fellow agent Darren Morris-Spruce, of DG Travel Centre of Henley, said: “I was approached this week by a woman claiming to be from Disney, which rang alarm bells straight away because I haven’t done a Disney booking for ages.

“She knew loads about me – my shop address, my TTA number and even the name of my old business partner. I’ve got a website with a biography and everyone has social media, so information is out there, but what was noticeable was the research she’d put in to get it. The fraudster also seemed to know details of our industry, which is a real worry.”

Thursday’s ABTA Today bulletin will again remind members of ways to identify potential fraud ‘red flags’, such as asking for documents to be delivered to hotels, short notice high-value bookings, and bookings to known high-risk destinations, while The Travel Network Group said its members’ update last week highlighted the growth in fake websites that use genuine ATOL, ABTA and TTA membership numbers.

“Were working closely with [travel fraud group] PROFiT and we are trying to help our members by raising awareness of different fraudulent activities, including fraudsters’ modus operandi and information on how to protect their businesses,” stressed TTNG Director of Membership Services Stephanie Slark.

Meanwhile, Andy Dean called for a more collaborative approach between agents and operators battle scammers, and warned he could resort to insisting on BACS payment for certain bookings. “I don’t want to be that person but something has to happen. I alerted Jet2 to my issue minutes after the booking when I heard from the genuine cardholder but they wouldn’t cancel the tickets.

“Operators need a password or PIN system to protect agents from dodgy bookings.”

It’s something the industry has already began introducing, with JTA Travel and If Only among those stepping up security.

Dnata Travel Group Managing Director Simon Applebaum said his brands, including Gold Medal and Pure Luxury, had upped staff training.

He said: “I can assure everyone that we’ve heard about this rise in fraud attempts and have reminded all of our team about completing security checks and arranging a call back if in any doubt. If any other operators have numbers they know to be linked to likely fraud please reach out. The sooner these attempts hit a 0% success rate, the sooner they’ll move onto the next scam.”

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