Fraudsters are conning travellers out of millions of pounds a year, with airline tickets, accommodation and group bookings most vulnerable, a report out today warns.

More than 4,500 cases of holiday booking fraud were reported with an estimated £7 million stolen from unsuspecting holidaymakers and other travellers in 2013.

The most common types of fraud highlighted in the study by Abta and the City of London Police National Fraud Intelligence Bureau relate to:

  • Holiday accommodation – almost a third (30%) of holiday fraud victims in 2013 were scammed by fraudulent advertising of holiday villas and apartments, with some arriving at their destination to discover they had nowhere to stay.

  • Airline tickets – where a customer believes they are booking a flight, receives a fake ticket or pays for one that never turns up. This is the second most common type of booking fraud, accounting for 21% of holiday booking fraud reported to the police in 2013. Average losses are more than £1,000 per victim, with flights to West Africa a particular target.

  • Package holidays – particularly group, sports and religious packages. The report highlights the Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia and major sporting events such as the Ryder Cup as particular targets for fraudsters. These types of package holiday fraud accounted for 17% of reports in 2013. Packages for the Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games in Scotland, and travel to the World Cup in Brazil, may prove a target this year.

Abta, the NFIB and Get Safe Online have published advice on how to avoid becoming a victim of holiday booking fraud – and on how victims should go about reporting it.

Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “Fraudsters are conning unsuspecting holidaymakers and travellers out of thousands of pounds each year – leaving them out of pocket or stranded with nowhere to stay through fake websites, false advertising, bogus phone calls and email scams.

“As well as financial loss there is the huge emotional impact of being stranded abroad or unable to afford another holiday. I’d encourage everyone booking travel arrangements to be vigilant and follow our tips to avoid becoming a victim of this type of fraud.”

Detective superintendent O’Doherty, director of NFIB, said: “The internet has changed the way we look for and book our holidays.

“Unfortunately it is also enabling fraudsters, using online offers of villas, hotels and flights that simply don’t exist or promising bookings that are never made, to prey upon those looking for that perfect break.

“We would urge those who have fallen foul of fraudsters to come forward by contacting Action Fraud to report their loss. By reporting it, victims are helping the NFIB to identify and effectively target those most responsible for this damaging and distressing crime.”

Get Safe Online chief executive Tony Neate added: “Going on holiday is one of the most enjoyable parts of the year, making it all the more devastating if you find yourself arriving at the airport or hotel to find your ticket isn’t valid.

“There are some simple steps people can take to reduce the chance of becoming the next victim of holiday booking fraud. The most important thing being to do your research.

“By this I mean checking a range of online reviews of the holiday you are about to book and that the company you are booking with is a member of a recognised trade association. If you’re satisfied it is legit, make sure you use a credit card to pay as it offers more protection if anything goes wrong.

“Likewise, check the site is secure before paying by looking out for a padlock symbol in the browser window frame and ‘https://’ at the beginning of the web address.”

Laura Parks, from Thirsk in North Yorkshire, bought a Loch Ness weekend Valentine break for her and her husband Sean, a soldier on leave from Afghanistan, but was left over £1,000 out of pocket after discovering that the lodge she had booked did not exist.

The lodge was advertised on Facebook and through a professional-looking website but it turned out that photos of the lodge had been taken from another legitimate website that had nothing to do with the firm she dealt with.

The couple were stranded in blizzard conditions and forced to spend money on securing alternative accommodation, as well as losing close to £400 on their original booking for the lodge and meals after paying the bogus company through bank transfer.