The British association of travel agencies' latest fraud report has done the rounds in the UK mainstream and trade media, and as usual, the evil internet is to blame for a 425% increase in reported travel-related fraud cases.
The study was produced by the City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. Get Safe Online, a "public/private sector partnership supported by HM Government" is also involved.
The 425% increase equates in cash terms to £11.5 million of travel-related fraud identified during 2015, a huge leap on 2014's £2.5m, although the release admits "part of the increase is likely to be due to the crime previously going unreported."
"Fraud" is an issue for anyone working in the travel industry - or indeed any commercial enterprise in any vertical in any market. And on a human level, the financial and emotional costs to victims is immense - the study looked at nearly 5,000 claims with the average financial loss coming at close to £3,000.
However, the specific culpability of travel firms is inferred rather than proven although that hasn't stopped sensationalist and scaremongering headlines such as "online fraud increases by 425%" and "holidaymakers conned..." and "online holiday scam..."
The issues around fraud identified in the release are not specific to travel - cloned web sites, phishing emails and people selling stuff which doesn't exist - are part of the online landscape.
One specific line in the release illustrates the confused narrative around fraud.
"There has also been a large increase in the number of owner accounts being hacked into on popular sharing accommodation websites."
Which reads as if "popular sharing accommodation websites" are easy to get into for hackers (who one might argue are not the same thing as fraudsters).
But the actual nature of the fraud, when ABTA was asked to clarify, is more complicated.
"We know that generally the fraud occurs either through a fake advert being placed on the genuine site, with victims then being directed outside of the normal procedure, either by saying that a payment has not been received or an email cannot be opened. The victim will then be signposted to an alternative payment webpage or contact method."
"The creation of a copycat website being made to look like the original" is also an option for fraudsters.
Clearly there is an issue about "popular sharing accommodation websites" allowing people to list properties which do not exist, but for the fraud to happen the transaction needs to take place independently between two individuals rather than via the website.
There have been a lot of high profile cases where established travel firms have been compromised and are fair game for intense scrutiny and criticism. But the impression from the headlines that the online travel industry as a whole is the wild west and that dotcoms are selling your credit cards details to the Russian mafia is way off the mark.
Related reading from Tnooz:Thomson keeps “data breach” details to itself (Aug 2015)
Three luxury hotels are victims of spectacular hackings, says security firm (June 2015)
NB Image by Shutterstock