WARNING: Dream Vacation or Internet Nightmare?

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New research carried out on behalf of Get Safe Online , a national Internet security awareness initiative backed by the UK Government and the Serious Organised Crime Agency, has revealed that 30 percent of Internet users are putting themselves at risk when they book a holiday online.

Get Safe Online and ABTA, the UK travel industry association, are now warning holidaymakers not to ignore basic online fraud-prevention measures when looking for a holiday bargain on the Web and suggesting that some might be handing over hard-earned cash for dream holidays that simply do not exist.

The survey of 1000 British adults suggests that 1 in 3 of them did not bother to confirm the authenticity of a travel provider before giving their payment details when making travel arrangements. Just to rub salt into this insecure wound, 1 in 5 didn't bother the check if the payment page was secure either.

The findings are particularly worrying when you discover that 26 percent of users admitted they were driven primarily by price when choosing an online break, as compared to a meagre 4 percent that thought good service came first. Only 11 percent went directly to a 'known operator' in the travel business, with 31 percent going wherever their search engine took them instead.

Basic fraud-prevention measures are being overlooked, it would appear, with 67 percent of those asked unaware of holiday rental scams and 68 percent unaware that bogus holiday sites existed. Yet 22 percent admitted that they had been approached with holiday deals or villa rentals via unsolicited emails, phones calls or SMS text messages from companies they had never heard of.

Tony Neate, managing director of GetSafeOnline.org, warns "if you decide to rent a villa or holiday home from an individual and they don’t provide a contact telephone number or don’t respond to calls, and they ask for full payment upfront to be made by a cheque in the post or wire transfer, then you need to be very careful. For private rentals, this may be the only way they can take payment, but it does make them almost impossible to track." UK Security Minister, Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, suggests that "in your rush to book a holiday you should make sure you are not falling victim to online crime by taking some basic steps to protect yourself" and points to the following Get Safe Online advice:Too good to be true? – five-star holidays at two-star prices probably are. If something doesn’t seem right, take additional steps to verify the offer and if still in doubt, stay away. Don’t fall for fake competition scams – similarly, a common trick by fraudsters is an email claiming you have won part of a luxury holiday, but need to pay a small fee to secure it. Check for approval – find out if your holiday provider is a member of ABTA or comparable travel organisation. If not, particularly in the case of private rental, do an online search to see if other travellers have had a bad experiences Check authenticity of private villa rentals - speak to the owner/agent directly via telephone; if the number isn’t provided email and request it. Although some owners will be unwilling to disclose these on their websites, there should be no problems getting these at the booking contract stage when the owner knows you are serious and the owner is genuine. Do your research – get the full address and find it on Google maps, and ask for a full contract which should set out all the terms and conditions of the rental, deposits, payment terms etc.

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About the Author

A freelance technology journalist for 30 years, I have been a Contributing Editor at PC Pro (one of the best selling computer magazines in the UK) for most of them. As well as currently contributing to Forbes.com, The Times and Sunday Times via Raconteur Special Reports, SC Magazine UK, Digital Health, IT Pro and Infosecurity Magazine, I am also something of a prolific author. My last book, Being Virtual: Who You Really are Online, which was published in 2008 as part of the Science Museum TechKnow Series by John Wiley & Sons. I am also the only three times winner (2006, 2008, 2010) of the BT Information Security Journalist of the Year title, and was humbled to be presented with the ‘Enigma Award’ for a ‘lifetime contribution to information security journalism’ in 2011 despite my life being far from over...