Images and logos on travel websites can be scammed ‘within seconds’ by cybercriminals intent on replicating a business online for fraudulent purposes.

Most pictures online tend to be ‘unprotected’ and are therefore vulnerable to cybercrime, digital image specialists have warned in the third part of anti-fraud group Profit’s Secure Our Systems campaign, backed by Travel Weekly.

Danny Howard, managing director of aFFirmFirst, which specialises in control, protection and validation of images online, said: “Criminals could construct a site and make it look like your site within minutes and defraud people. The fake website will have your branding and your logo and accreditations – all this can be taken by right clicking and downloading the images.”

Scaping online images to populate a bogus website is often used by criminals behind villa rental fraud but is also used in airline ticket fraud, according to Profit.

Travel companies may not be aware a crime has happened until they receive calls from duped holidaymakers who have already paid for holidays via the fake website.

Profit chairman Barry Gooch warned that image scraping was a growing problem for travel agents, tour operators, cruise and airline websites.

He said: “Copying images, logos and websites is increasingly a common methodology used by criminals to undermine the travel industry and commit fraud. This is becoming a big issue for the travel industry. Profit hunts down bogus websites and get them removed.”

Profit is working with AFFirmFirst, which has developed technology to prevent this type of crime, to find low cost ways to help travel firms protect their sites and brands.

Howard said that not doing anything was akin to “leaving the front door of your house unlocked and open”.

“This is on the increase all the time,” he said. “We know there is a lot of reactive technology available but it makes sense to be proactive.”

Images can be protected by installing software which immediately displays a copyright symbol or warns potential criminals of the dangers of stealing an image and ensures it breaks up and cannot be reproduced, said Howard.

From a consumer’s point of view, logos on websites which use protective software can be shown to be authentic by linking through to the accreditation organisation.

Howard added that by putting the right technology in place, travel companies could be in control of the images on their websites and could put in place levels of protection, depending on whether they want images to be used on social media, for example.

Any companies interested in finding out how to better protect their websites should contact Profit by emailing contactus@profit.uk.com.