Staycation holiday scams soar, banking watchdog warns

Consumers are being warned about a sharp rise in coronavirus-related holiday scams, including a spate of fake caravan and motorhome listings targeting those planning a summer staycation.

The warning from UK Finance, the banking industry body, comes three days after the government announced an easing of the lockdown rules in England aimed at helping to get the tourism sector back up and running.

UK Finance said criminals were exploiting the uncertainty around travel restrictions and cancellations to target would-be holidaymakers and commit fraud.

Fraud prevention service Cifas has recorded a big jump in the numbers of holidaymakers being contacted by fraudsters purporting to be from travel companies or insurers and offering to refund or rebook cancelled flights and holidays.

The banking body said financial firms were working closely with law enforcement agencies, but that others needed to play their part too. It called on auction websites and social media sites to take “swift action” to remove fraudulent posts and listings being used to promote holiday scams.

On Wednesday, ministers announced that “from 4 July, people can now take a well-deserved staycation”. It means people can stay overnight at holiday homes and second homes, and book hotels, caravan parks and campsites, provided businesses and individuals comply with the official regulations and guidance
. This new regime relates to England, with different rules for other parts of the UK – for example, in Wales, travel restrictions are scheduled to be eased from 6 July.

With many people now looking to book a summer break, the government-backed Take Five anti-fraud campaign has published detailed guidance with information on common holiday scams and advice on how to stay safe from them.

The banking body said criminals were trying to cash in on the growing demand for staycations by advertising fake listings for caravans and motorhomes on websites, and citing lockdown restrictions as the reason why a vehicle cannot be viewed in person.

“These vehicles are advertised at attractive prices to tempt people into believing they are getting a good deal, when in reality they simply don’t exist or don’t arrive once paid for,” a spokesperson said.

Consumers are being advised to do their research and ask to see a vehicle over video if they are unable to view it in person. They should also steer clear of requests to pay someone via bank transfer rather than using one of the recommended secure payment methods.

UK Finance said that in some recent cases, criminals had been requesting that the buyer pay using PayPal. The criminal then fails to send a PayPal invoice, at which point the buyer is contacted by someone pretending to be a PayPal representative, and receives a reference and bank account number for payment to be made into. Ultimately the buyer does not receive their goods as the payment has gone into an account controlled by the fraudsters.

Meanwhile, with airlines expected to resume flights and travel companies offering discounted prices, consumers are being urged to watch out for fake websites offering “cheap travel deals” which are used to steal people’s money and personal information.

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