Turned away at the villa

Man relaxing in a deckchair © Getty images
Don’t let scammers ruin your holiday

More holidaymakers are falling prey to scams. Here’s what to look for.

Holiday scams are on the rise. Last year, according to City of London Police, 4,700 people reported being ripped off in booking scams, losing an average of £1,500 each, with £6.7m stolen in total. That’s a relatively small number of people, but it’s up 25% on 2016.

The most common scams relate to flight and accommodation bookings. These tend to involve criminals setting up fake websites and adverts to dupe people into paying for flights and accommodation that don’t exist. Victims may receive genuine-looking tickets and booking confirmations, meaning they don’t discover the scam until they get to the airport – or worse still, until after they’ve landed at their destination and find they have nowhere to stay.

Given the level of stress, anticipation and expense involved in planning the typical holiday abroad, it’s understandable that the emotional, and financial impact of scams of this type can be quite serious for some people. In fact, says Action Fraud, “575 people reported that the harm to them was so severe they had to receive medical treatment or were at risk of bankruptcy”.

The good news is you can protect yourself from falling victim to these sorts of scams quite easily. First, when you are researching holidays, be sure to check that the web address is legitimate and that it has not been altered by making slight changes to a domain name (such as going from .co.uk to .org), warns trade group the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta). It’s also a good idea to track down (simply by using Google) several reviews of a company to make sure it’s credible – you may well find warnings from previous victims of fraud.

Secondly, it’s also a good idea to check if the company is a member of Abta, which has a code of conduct for members. If the logo looks questionable, you can confirm by looking at Abta’s membership directory. And if you’re buying a package that includes flights, ensure it has its (mandatory) Air Travel Organisers’ Licence (Atol).

Thirdly, never pay money directly into an individual’s bank account, as cash transfers can be harder to trace than card payments. Finally, keep in mind that payments of between £100 and £30,000 on a credit card are covered by useful consumer-protection legislation – if the company fails to provide the service you’ve paid for, you can go to your credit-card provider for a refund.


Early-bird Isas

Happy new tax year! The dawning of the 2018-19 tax year means your individual savings account (Isa) allowance has been reset, and we can all stash another £20,000 beyond the reach of the taxman. Most people leave it to the last minute, but do it now and you’ll reap the benefits.

Over the past ten years, if you’d invested your Isa money at the start of the year rather than waiting until the last minute you could be almost £20,000 better off, according to Hargreaves Lansdown. Plus, you’d have banked an extra £1,400 in dividends.

If you are looking for a cash Isa, then the best rate you can possibly get is 2.3% from Shawbrook Bank for a five-year fixed rate. You may also want to consider Halifax’s five-year Isa – it pays 2.25% interest, but if your account has more than £5,000 in it, you are eligible to enter the Halifax Savers Prize Draw. Anyone who might need their money sooner could consider Al Rayan Bank’s 12-month bond paying 1.51%. Or, if you need instant access to your money, then Nationwide offers the best rate at 1.3%. If you’re shopping around for a better rate, it’s worth noting that all the best buys listed above accept transfers from other Isa accounts.

Pocket money… RAC offers compensation

• Motorists are paying “over the odds” for insurance and breakdown cover, despite new rules designed to stop customers automatically accepting expensive renewals, says Lucy Warwick-Ching in the Financial Times.

New rules require companies to show how much a customer paid in premiums last year next to their new quote. There should also be a clear message that encourages customers to shop around for a better deal. Unfortunately some insurance companies,including the RAC, failed to comply, warns the Financial Conduct Authority. The RAC has now apologised to its breakdown customers for the failure. Any unhappy customers can claim compensation or a cheaper policy, says the insurer.

• Tech issues at Aviva have left “thousands of customers… suffering huge problems with their investments, including delays in pension payments, incorrect tax relief being applied and limited online access after a disastrous website upgrade”, says Ruth Emery in The Sunday Times.

In late January, Aviva moved 200,000 customers onto a new online platform, where they should be able to manage their portfolios and pay in and withdraw money. But it has been riddled with problems.Emery cites one customer who should receive £2,443 pension income every month, but who after the “upgrade” received a reduced payment in February and nothing in March.

It has been a “case study in how not to upgrade your IT systems”, says Darren Cooke, director of Red Circle Financial Planning. Aviva told The Sunday Times it will ensure no one was “disadvantaged financially by any issues that may have arisen” and said it was busy fixing the problems.

• Shared parental leave needs to be “drastically improved” or it will fail, says Sam Meadows in The Daily Telegraph. The policy is meant to allow fathers to share the burden of caring for a newborn, but official figures estimate that as few as 2% of eligible parents have used the scheme, “with a lack of awareness and equal-pay issues being blamed”.

Shared parental leave gives couples the right to split the mother’s legal right to 52 weeks of maternity leave between them. The problem is “the lower level of pay for men in the scheme makes it prohibitive”, with around 95% of employers offering enhanced maternity pay but just 4.4% doing the same for paternity pay. With men often paid more than women – the UK’s average gender pay gap is 9.8% – many “feel they can’t afford to lose a chunk of the higher salary”.