A criminal getaway
My recent column outlining the frustration I felt when I offered the authorities information about fraudsters who had targeted our office clearly hit a nerve.
Many of you responded with stories of your own and the consensus was that, in spite of the heightened risk from global terrorism, the crime busters have yet to get to grips with this sort of activity.
When the police visited our offices back in January with a plastic sheet of instructions detailing the action we should take in the event of a suspicious booking, there were lots of words in bold printed on it, like 'immediately', 'at once' and 'without delay'.
The trouble was, when we passed on the information immediately, at once and without delay, the police and other authorities appeared to go into slow motion, with the result that our fun-loving criminals got nothing but a nice tan.
Jim Tadgell, of Ariel Travel in Denbighshire, had a similar experience to share. His staff had accepted flight bookings over the phone, and had followed procedures for checking credit card details and security codes, all of which seemed fine. It was only upon sending out confirmation to the cardholder that it was revealed that he had not actually made the booking.
The staff informed the police, the airline and the consolidator about the fraud and the flights were cancelled. They were assured the police would be waiting to arrest the perpetrator at the departure gate. All very reassuring, you'd think.
Except of course, that it didn't happen. There was no exciting arrest to entertain the other passengers because there were no police waiting. And, in spite of the fact that the flight had been cancelled, the fraudster managed to get it reinstated at the cost of £100. And he was indeed allowed to fly on false identity papers.
Another agent from the north is awaiting the outcome of a similar case; again the police advised her that they would apprehend the fraudster at the airport. I can't help but feel ever so slightly cynical about the chances of that happening, but I'd love to be proved wrong.
It is clear that travel services within the UK are vulnerable and that security at our airports is circumnavigable by those with the know-how.
It is also apparent that our own efforts within the industry to combat the threat are not being sufficiently well supported by the authorities.
High time, I think, for the home secretary to stop focusing on how many adult films her husband has bought with taxpayers' money and start planning some proper back-up for diligent travel agents.
The ultimate time-waster?
Fraudsters aren't the only ones taking up our valuable time. Pat Waterton at Langley Travel told me of the ultimate time-waster.
The client had asked one of Pat's staff members to work on a detailed quote for a trip to South Africa for him last November. The client changed his mind hourly and the quote became the work of six days with no booking at the end.
In January, the same man resurfaced, contacted the same member of staff and this time asked for quotes for Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Mauritius. This time, her efforts were protracted over 10 days.
It emerged around the same time that the client had also contacted another member of the branch about a booking to Turkey. None of this work would have been begrudged if the client had booked any one of the trips they had put together, but they heard nothing from him and none of his money found its way into the coffers of Langley Travel.
Out of the blue, Pat received an email from him informing her that he had travelled to Mauritius having booked at a 'more competitive price' with another agent. He also offered his observations on the accommodation for her to share with other customers. Goodness only knows what he was thinking!
Pat was hopping mad at his smug tone and the thought that her commission, which would have been so well earned, had gone elsewhere. She mailed a polite reply advising that his observations were unnecessary and suggesting that he had benefited from the professionalism and expertise of her staff for free.
The insulting emailed response she received from this odious man does not bear repeating. Suffice to say, if it had come via the telephone Pat could have slammed the receiver down.
It's not just a sense of humour you need to work in this business, it's an asbestos personality!
Maureen Hill works at Travel Angels in Gillingham, Dorset
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