Travel agents warn of holiday web scam

Travel agents warned holidaymakers on Friday to be careful about booking trips online after an Internet scam was uncovered that has left nearly 3,000 people out of pocket.

A number of fake holiday websites, thought to be operated by the same individuals, have been set up and then quickly closed once people have been conned into paying for non-existent holidays, the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) said.

"We understand there are six or seven website names that have been defrauding people," said ABTA's Dee Byrne.

She said about 3,000 people have been hit by the con.

"Unfortunately many will have lost their money unless they paid by credit card, in which case they should be able to recoup their losses," she added.

The Metropolitan Police, the Fraud Squad and the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) are all investigating the scam which is thought to have netted hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Byrne said ABTA's advice is to check its own website or that of other affiliated organisations like ATOL - (Air Travel Organisers' Licensing) to make sure their holiday firm is bona fide.

"We are saying 'just be careful about booking holidays over the Internet'. Obviously there are a lot of good companies that are perfectly OK, but people need to check," she said.

Byrne said people should be wary of too readily accepting an offer if it looks too good to be true and should instead spend sometime making simple checks on the credentials of the holiday firm.

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