Watch out for holiday scams
Don't get taken for a ride this summer.
Although we've enjoyed a brief respite from the recent non-stop rain, many of us are still looking forward to summer holidays in sunnier climates!
Unfortunately it may not all be sun, sea and sangria when abroad - there are lots of scams aimed specifically at tourists – so read on and make sure you don’t fall into any of these common traps!
Don’t book a fake holiday!
If you're going to splash out on a holiday then search around for the best deal.
Booking at the last minute online is often the best way to grab a bargain, but many of us fail to take basic security measures which can open us up to fraud. Scammers create sophisticated holiday websites that look the part but are selling non-existent holidays and collecting the card details of unwitting customers.
Protect yourself by making some quick and easy checks on your travel provider. Do they have a UK address on their website, and easily accessible contact details? Do they claim to be ATOL protected? You can check this easily and quickly by visiting the Civil Aviation Authority website. You can also find out if they are an ABTA member by searching for the company on the ABTA website.
Don’t pay for freebies!
When travelling in Europe you should have an EHIC health insurance card. There are companies who kindly offer to sort this out for you, saving you the ‘hassle’. Of course, they add on costs for such things as admin charges, postal costs and their agency fee. You don’t need an agent, the card is free to obtain and simple to sign up for. Just visit the European Health Insurance Card official website and do it yourself!
If travelling to America you will now need an ETSA visa which is required by the US Department of Homeland Security. They cost $14 each and give you permission to enter the country (although if you are denied permission you are still charged $4 for the pleasure!)
This is very easy to do online via the government website so don’t let an ‘agency’ do it for you. Trading Standards found one website offering to sort our ETSA visa for $39 each – meaning a family of free will be paying $117 rather than the $42 they should be paying!
Every year the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) launches a campaign to make sure people do not fall into timeshare traps, but the figures show that a high proportion of Brits are still falling victim to this age old scam.
There are various ways in which you might find yourself the ‘proud’ owner of a worthless timeshare. A company may phone you and pretend you have won a holiday. All you have to do to claim is attend a presentation.
These presentations can go on for hours, and highly skilled salespeople can often extract cash from the most savvy customer, sending them packing with a timeshare package in their hands and a confused expression! High pressure sales, non-existent properties, badly maintained holiday villas and high maintenance fees are all common complaints in the murky world of timeshare scams.
Once signed up it can be difficult to get out of a contract. Selling your timeshare can be an option, but this process can also open you up to scams. Dodgy timeshare resale companies entice you to use their services by telling you they have a buyer waiting. They take an up-front fee with the promise that it will be refunded upon sale. The company will then disappear, no buyer will be waiting in the wings, and you will be left even further out of pocket.
There is legislation in place, at least if you buy a timeshare within the EEA, which offers some protection. Under EU law, Timeshare Directive 94/97/EC gives consumers certain rights in relation to their purchase, such as a cooling off period and the right to basic information about the seller.
Holiday Club scams
Holiday Clubs are not covered by timeshare legislation, so present an entirely new set of problems for unwitting tourists.
Joining a Holiday Club entails paying a membership fee in order to gain access to discounted accommodation, flights and car hire. You don’t get any ownership rights over a holiday property as you would with a valid timeshare, and sometimes you are paying for nothing more than a password to a website that offers holiday products.
Investigations have shown that these prices are often no better than those you might find on any holiday website, meaning that you have essentially paid money for nothing!
A method of scamming particularly prevalent in places like the Canary Islands, involves ‘sales reps’ stopping tourists on the beach and offering them scratch cards. The tourist wins the ‘top’ prize and is excitedly taken to the ‘office’ (often in a hotel lobby) and given champagne before being lured into signing up to what might look like a fantastic deal.
The OFT has been working on this problem for years. I used to work for them investigating these companies. A fake timeshare or holiday company can be very hard to track down as they are often based abroad. They also operate within different legislations so the powers of the OFT are limited, but progress is being made. If you have fallen victim to such a scam contact the OFT or your local Trading Standards office.