Travel scams up 500%: How to keep your holiday safe

8 min read
June 28, 2024

Booking travel and accommodation can be exciting. But it can also put you at risk.

During the summer months fraudsters take advantage of the eagerness to get away, and willingness to splurge on a great deal, to swindle people planning their holidays. And summer 2024 looks to be worse than any year before. 

As reported by the BBC, safety boss has said that travel scams have increased “500 to 900%”. According to Lloyds Bank, those who fall prey to scammers lose £765 on average. These are scary figures for UK holiday-makers already struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.

Whether it’s AI-generated accommodation ads, phishing emails or clone websites, we take a look at the spike in travel scams and explain what you can do to protect yourself and your summer plans from disaster. 

Accommodation scams: dodgy websites and fake ads

According to the travel regulator ABTA, accommodation scams are some of the most common travel scams. As well as dodgy booking websites, the popularity of sites like AirBNB and, where anyone can make their own listing, has unleashed a flood of fake ads for accommodation that doesn’t actually exist. 

Generative AI tools have not helped. The creation of fake listings for apartments, hostels, hotels, campsites and cottages is easier than ever before – and even trickier to spot. Once the lurid images and descriptions of idyllic accommodation for a fantastic price have lured someone into paying a deposit, the listing will disappear. 

Whether its a luxury villa for a bargain price on a popular holiday booking site, or a last-minute glamping spot advertised on social media, fake ads can take many forms. 

Even if you use a reputable money transfer service to pay a deposit, receive a confirmation email or make the booking via a trusted site like or AirBNB – this still doesn’t mean an ad or website is legitimate. 

As well as being left out of pocket, in the worst case scenario, unlucky travellers won’t realise they’ve been scammed until they turn up and find that the accommodation they booked isn’t available or doesn’t exist – and that they are stranded with nowhere to stay.

Fake tickets

Ticket purchase scams are also on the rise. Recent data from Lloyds Bank has shows that fake flight tickets are one of the most common fraudulent travel products sold. 

Following the Covid-19 pandemic – when the price of flights sky-rocketed – more people began turning to social media and lesser-known websites to find cheaper deals. 

It’s now common for scammers will create fake ads for bargain flight deals or pretend that they are selling airline tickets they are no longer able to use themselves. By offering an appealingly low price – and asking only for a small fee to change the name on the ticket – they lure people into expensive lapses in judgement.

Once the money has been sent, the scammer will inevitably disappear and the tickets never materialise. 

This kind of scam is most prevalent on social media – especially Facebook Marketplace. So any especially eye-catching ads or fantastic offers you see while you scroll should immediately raise red flags. 

Phishing emails, texts and calls 

Phishing scams try to trick people into providing their personal or financial details. They’ve been around since the earliest days of the internet but are becoming more and more sophisticated. 

The availability of generative language models like ChatGPT means that scammers can more easily and effectively generate convincing content that gets people to hand over their financial details because they believe they are communicating with a trusted source. 

When it comes to travel scams, phishing emails and texts will often mimic trusted sites like and AirBNB. The emails will contain links to fake booking pages or clone sites that will invite you to update or make a booking, and then harvest your personal information or payment details. Fraudsters can easily duplicate legitimate websites – sometimes even the smallest details appear identical.

Another tactic being used are phishing messages and phone calls from ‘refund agents’ where the consumer is offered a refund for a cancelled flight or accommodation booking. They will be asked to provide bank details to process the refund as well as an additional administration or handling fee. 

Having a flight or hotel booking cancelled is stressful – so scammers purposefully create feelings of distress, disappointment or panic by making you think your plans have been disrupted and then defraud you.

Consumer group Which? has discovered examples of fake Twitter/X and Facebook accounts impersonating every major airline in the UK. These fake accounts will send messages claiming to help with a refund or claim, but ultimately trying to obtain sensitive details. These fake customer service accounts were often quicker to respond to customers than the real airlines! 

How to spot a travel scam

These days there are so many booking and comparison sites, plus social media, that we can feel spoilt for choice. At the same time, discerning what is real and what is a scam is harder than ever. 

It is up to travel companies to make improvements to their security through two-factor authentication and making people aware of scams. But until the industry gets ahead of the scammers, it is up to consumers to stay informed and protect themselves. 

Double-check the website

Be very cautious of any website you use to make a flight or accommodation booking. Look to see if the URL or website looks strange, there are too many ads, or suspicious customer reviews – see our article on How to spot a fake review.

A secure website uses encryption and authentication to protect any transactions that occur on the site. If the website isn’t secure it could also be a sign that it is a scam.

A secure website’s URL should begin with “https” rather than “http”. (The “s” at the end stands for secure and means that your information will be encrypted before being sent to a server.) You can also click on the “lock” icon in the search bar to verify that a website is trustworthy.

You should also check for contact details – any legitimate company will have contact details like an email or telephone number readily available on their website. Scam sites won’t have any. 

Stay away from social media – especially Facebook Marketplace

Take extra precautions when buying tickets from third-party sellers and try to stay away from social media as much as possible – as this is where most scammers operate. Facebook, including Facebook Marketplace, is the favourite hunting ground for scammers – nearly half of holiday scams starting on the platform (49%). 

Pay with a debit or credit card

Always use your debit or credit card when you buy or book travel tickets or accommodation online. If you pay for tickets with a credit or debit card you will be protected by the Section 75 or Chargeback rules should something go wrong. 

PayPal is another option that’s usually safer than paying by bank transfer.

Don’t follow links in unsolicited emails or texts

You should avoid clicking on links in unsolicited emails and texts – even if they appear to be sent from a legitimate site with official branding. Always go directly to the website by typing the address into your browser yourself. 

Before clicking on any link, think about whether you initiated this contact. Check your marketing preferences – unless you have given them permission to do so, these websites shouldn’t be pushing random listings at you via email. 

Book flights directly with the airline

This is the only way that you can be sure your ticket is genuine.

Learn to spot fake or AI content

The tell-tale signs of fraud that we have all been trained to look out for are spelling or grammatical errors. However, with today’s technological tools, including AI generated content, telling real from fake content apart presents new challenges.

You can do a reverse image search on any photos of tickets or accommodation to see if they have been ‘scraped’ from elsewhere on the internet. You can also do profile checks on social media accounts and customer reviews to see if the person posting seems real. 

When it comes to AI, realistic images and accurate text in multiple language may seem impossible to interpret as fake – but there are some signs. 

AI images are a little too perfect, with a kind of overly-crisp or airbrushed look. They are often lacking in details that would be in real photos, like shadows. So if a villa or cottage seems beyond idyllic – and at a bargain price – something isn’t quite right.

If the description uses US spellings and Oxford commas  (particularly when included on British websites) or unconventional vocabulary or phrasing – ‘elevate’, ‘akin’ – you might be looking at a scam. There are AI detectors available – like TraceGPT – and as we see more and more of this kind of content we begin to become suspicious of writing that reads especially fluently or has certain patterns of punctuation or sentence length. Ironically, a few typos could be reassuring that the words have been written by a real person. 

Trust your gut

Aside from technological tools, all scammers rely on a few key psychological tactics to make us forget our own reservations.

Don’t ever let yourself be rushed or pressured – if someone is offering a discount for paying by bank transfer, making an offer time-limited or telling you to pay an extra fee to avoid missing out, take a breath.

Fraudsters will try to create a false sense of urgency or panic so that they can trick you – so always be cautious, take a moment to check in with yourself and, if in doubt, don’t proceed.

Stay vigilant 

It’s a sad fact of life today that there are scammers trying to target us at any time – who often take advantage of our enthusiasm for the things we love. We must learn to look out for ourselves and others by exercising a lot of caution.

If you’re scrolling through social media and spot a post offering an unmissable deal, or receive a promotional email, text, or WhatsApp message out of the blue, this should raise red flags rather than make you reach for your wallet.  Even if a website or ad seems to have everything you’re looking for and be legitimate make sure you take all precautions to protect yourself.  


If you have any thoughts on this topic, or any other consumer issues you would like us to cover, feel free to get in touch with us at .

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