Police and travel agents warned of increase in holidays for criminals

The International Institute of Travel and Tourism has told readers that thieves could be tempted to go for a low-cost holiday with a longer trip and a low cost of the overall trip to split up the money

Police, airports and travel agents are being urged to be on high alert this Christmas and New Year for an increase in fraudsters and thieves who could prey on well-heeled holidaymakers.

The UK’s biggest tour operator, Thomas Cook, told readers of its travel website to expect a surge in fraudsters between now and Christmas after thousands of pounds of fraudulent activity was linked to a number of booking accounts.

Thomas Cook will send shoppers helpfully printed tips to protect themselves online, including keeping all internet and mobile devices’ passwords secret. Readers were asked to answer online questions about sending packages from a small town with a “sky plane” map on the site to “catch the crooks”.

In a message to passengers, British Airways said the fact that it is a major holidaymaker had enabled it to “see the global trend where fraudsters are targeting a well-off market”.

And Manchester airport said it had an “excellent track record of handling cases of this nature and is always committed to tackling it”. It added: “Some of the airlines, airports and hotels already know that they are under pressure and are increasing staff numbers to tackle the problem. However, we are making sure that we alert everyone we can to the issue, and tell them all the things you should do to keep yourselves safe.”

Experts say those looking for a quiet Christmas and a long winter break could be lured into a “good deal” scam.

The International Institute of Travel and Tourism (IITT) has sent out a letter telling readers that the “good time to travel” may soon be over because thieves could be tempted to go for a low-cost holiday with a longer trip and a low cost of the overall trip to split up the money to continue the scam.

Fraudsters were being focused on places such as Greece and Turkey to capitalise on the many holidays taken by Brits, said Tony Hassan, head of the travel group for IITT, which is based in London. He added: “So, the first thing is to make sure you’re not in Cyprus or Syria. Another thing is to make sure you leave your email address where you can be contacted – lots of people do not do that.”

Fraudsters also focus on the UK on its summer holidays, Hassan said. “It happens this time of year – criminals, often young thugs, go to those countries where they know that there is a lot of money to be had, so they go for that moment when the holiday is over and lots of people will be sitting in the airport.”

There was no clear trend for the country where they preyed on holidaymakers, he said. “It’s very hard to say – a different country, a different time of year, different circumstances.”

And Hassan warned holidaymakers not to accept any electronic gift vouchers from local businesses. “They’re selling vouchers to you, they have this web page. In order to get the voucher you have to make a phone call to a number in their phone book, or they will send you an envelope,” he said.

“You have no idea where the voucher is going to end up. They may well have a website but may be completely different brands.”

Alasdair Corcoran, a financial crimes investigator, warned: “The best thing is to avoid scammers who use the likes of a fake WhatsApp account. While people may be able to intercept and ring out to arrange to receive a meal from a particular hotel for a price that seems right, that person is probably a phone number in Cyprus. They may even be from a local bank.

“The signs of an online fraudster are being one step ahead of the punter with the ‘buy me here and I’ll pay you here’ wording, or tricks to make customers feel they’re being kept in the dark. These situations can be traced back to a number of spoofing phone numbers used for shop window displays.”

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