ABTA has spoken out over the news that consumers are losing £1 billion a year to scam holiday clubs, describing them as a “menace” to the travel industry.

The Office of Fair Trading is launching an awareness campaign to UK holidaymakers to Spain after revealing that more than 400,000 are ripped off by the bogus holiday offers every year.

October is the peak month for consumers to be targeted by bogus holiday clubs, with the average victim being defrauded of more than £3,000 in resorts such as Tenerife, Costa del Sol and Gran Canaria.

Consumers are targeted by ‘scratchcard touts’ who promise them a prize. They are told to attend a lengthy presentation and persuaded to sign a contract for an ‘exclusive’ club, which makes false claims about the price, range and quality of holidays available.

These holiday clubs simply offer services such as online booking, which are available free from high-street travel agencies.

ABTA head of policy and communications David Marshall said he was particularly concerned as many of these operators allude to the fact they are ABTA members.

He said: “It brings the whole travel industry into ill repute. These bogus holiday clubs are a menace.

“When people go on holiday and are targeted by the clubs they come to ABTA too late.”

He described them as the new “timeshare” rip-off which the Government has already legislated against.

“These holiday clubs are timeshares in all but name. We fully support the OFT campaign.”

OFT head of consumer protection Mike Haley said: “Every year British holidaymakers are deceived by the false promises and sophisticated high-pressure selling of bogus holiday clubs and their marketers.”

María Luz Peñacoba, director of the European consumer centre in Madrid, said: “We will be handing out information and advice to holiday-makers arriving at resorts to warn them of the dangers of these distressing and expensive scams.”