In travel, the boundary between legitimate business practice and fraud has always been blurred. In the days of price-fixing, some airlines connived with agents, back-dating tickets to generate lower fares and fill planes.
Today, the internet has created an entire industry of middlemen who extract cash from unwary travellers. At the lawful end, third parties interpose themselves between travellers and the services they want to contact. Anyone tapping “UK passport” into Google will generate a list topped by a series of paid-for entries. You could mistakenly find yourself paying unnecessary fees to third parties rather than the Passport Service.
The next level involves companies creating websites that look like hotel portals – and which invite bookings. Users usually find out too late that buried in the terms and conditions is the revelation that the hundreds of pounds paid is not for a room, but commission for requesting a reservation.
And the biggest profits are made by fraudsters who lure people to expensive distress.
How should the buyer beware? By using technology to their advantage. Check that the property actually exists on Google Earth. Ask for a landline number and call them.
And when you do go on holiday, beware local scams – starting with the taxi driver who gives you change from a €10 note, even though you handed him a €50...