Holidaymakers have always been irresistible to scam artists.
People taking a break in foreign countries are often relaxed, preoccupied and unwilling to make embarrassing scenes.
This makes them especially vulnerable to the kind of criminals who only need to catch you with your guard down momentarily to get away with murder.
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) estimates that UK consumers lose around £3.5bn every year to scams.
And, perhaps surprisingly, once someone falls for one con, there is an increased chance – as much as 30 per cent according to some research – that they will fall for another within a year.
A spokesman for the OFT said: ‘Once you’ve fallen for one scam, it’s likely your name and address will be added to what we call the “suckers” mailing list, and you may be bombarded with others.’
So Streetwise, with the help of Which? and Moneywise, has compiled a guide to steering clear of holiday fraudsters.
· Fake holiday companies
As with so much on the internet and teletext, checking whether you’re dealing with a legitimate firm can be tricky.
This leads to some conmen taking advantage of the anonymity offered by these platforms to fleece customers with impunity.
Thousands of people are believed to have been scammed by purchasing holidays online that didn’t exist, with some individuals reporting losses in excess of £1,500, according to postings on holidaywatchdog.com.
So exercise scepticism and caution at all times. If a deal seems too good to be true, then it probably is.
Always check if smaller companies are members of a trade organisation such as the Travel Association (ABTA) or the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) and be suspicious if they have a large credit card loading fee or say they don’t accept payment by card.
Limited companies in the UK will also be registered with Companies House, so contact them and check the company is legitimate.
· Bogus policemen
Research from Which? magazine showed five per cent of travellers have encountered someone posing as a policeman in the past two years.
Plain-clothed ‘policemen’ will ask holidaymakers to see their passport or driving licence and even ask for cash, on the pretence that you fit a suspect’s description. They then run off with your passport or money.
Ask to see their documents before handing anything over, and also ask for their station’s phone number so you can call through to verify their status.
· Petrol station thieves
Leaving your car unlocked, even for a brief moment, can be all criminals need to help themselves to your belongings.
A classic sting involves the petrol station customer getting back into their car after filling up and paying, only to notice a flier is obscuring the view out of the back window.
Almost on autopilot they get out to remove it, leaving the keys in the ignition and the car unlocked.
Quick as a flash someone has jumped into the car and driven off.
It may seem obvious but any innocuous situations such as this should be treated with suspicion. Always take your car keys with you and lock up, even if stopping to deal with a flat tyre.
· Money scams
Some street vendors will offer to change your currency on the spot and then either shortchange you or sell you counterfeit money.
So if makes sense to only change money at a reputable vendor – and if you think some notes look dodgy, don’t be afraid to ask for different ones.
Also be aware of the going exchange rate and don’t settle for significantly less.
And never give your card or your card details to someone else and keep your card in your sights when it comes to paying for goods and services.
Before you leave the UK, take a note of the 24-hour phone number of your provider in case you need to cancel a lost or stolen card and check your statements upon your return for any unauthorised transactions.