A travel industry group with members including ABTA and Teletext Holidays is stepping up its efforts to stamp out holiday fraud.

Operation Sterling, which was established by the Metropolitan Police last year, has attracted members from all sectors of the industry, including the Civil Aviation Authority, the Travel Trust Association, Hays Travel Group, Thomas Cook and Virgin Atlantic.

The aim is to gauge the severity and frequency of fraud in different sectors and find ways to tackle it. Two working groups have been established to look at fraud in airlines and homeworking groups. Members will also be investigating Internet card fraud, internal and organised frauds.
The group’s chairman, Teletext Holidays head of compliance Barry Gooch, said the recent conviction of a bogus travel agent gang who defrauded thousands of holidaymakers should serve as a wake-up call.

“Travel agents often think this doesn’t apply to them but the recent case shows it’s something they must be aware of. People have learnt some hard lessons from it,” he said.

“We will discuss how we can get information on people who have come from abroad.”

The long-term aim of the group is to introduce a kitemark scheme for travel companies that meet a set of criteria set out by Operation Sterling members and external advisers.

“We will set up a series of values but these won’t be a barrier to trade; they will increase productivity,” Gooch added.

“No company can work on this by itself. It’s such an all-encompassing industry, the most important thing is for us to be united. It’s a huge task and early days but we are determined to push it forward.”

ABTA head of finance Mike Monk added: “The most important thing is that people are aware of fraud so they can spot the danger signs.”