Holidaymakers are being ripped off to the tune of more than £2 million by fraudsters targeting unsuspecting travellers.

The most common type of crime last year involved criminals hacking into the accounts of owners on well-known accommodation websites or spoofing these sites with convincing bogus imitations, according to the report compiled by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau section of the City of London Police.

Disappointed holidaymakers found the villas and apartments they thought they had booked and paid for were non-existent or had never been booked.

UK caravan stays were also targeted with adverts for non-existent accommodation posted on Facebook, Gumtree and Craigslist.

The report reveals that during a 12-month period 1,569 cases of holiday booking fraud were reported to the force.

The average loss is calculated at £889 although one consumer lost £62,000 in a fraud relating to timeshare.

A third of victims saying that fraud had a substantial impact on their health as well as their financial well-being.

A total of 167 victims reported that the impact of the crime was so severe that they had had to receive medical treatment.

There are spikes of reported fraud in the summer months and in December which paint a very clear picture of disappointed holidaymakers and ruined trips to visit loved ones for Christmas.

The age group most commonly targeted are those aged 30-49, many of who will be families.

The majority of those who had been defrauded paid by methods such as bank transfer or cash with no means of getting their money back. Only a small proportion paid by credit or debit card where some form of redress is available to get money back.

The most common types of fraud relate to:

  • Holiday Accommodation – Fraudsters are making full use of the internet to con would-be holidaymakers by setting up fake websites, hacking into legitimate accounts and posting fake adverts on websites and social media;

  • Airline tickets – where a customer believes they are booking a flight and receives a fake ticket or pays for a ticket that never turns up. Flights to West Africa are a particular target;

  • Sports and religious trips – Often an attractive target due to limited availability and consequent higher prices. In 2014 the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and World Cup in Brazil were targeted with numerous people having paid for non–existent accommodation or tickets. Religious trips to the Hajj in Saudi Arabia were once again targeted with high losses for pilgrims;

  • Holiday clubs – Victims were offered “free” holidays to entice them into attending a seminar where they were duped into buying a fraudulent timeshare.

Abta, the City of London Police and Get Safe Online have re-joined forces to warn people about the dangers posed by holiday booking fraud.

Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “Holiday fraud is a particularly distressing form of fraud as the loss to the victim is not just financial but it can also have a high emotional impact.

“Many victims are unable to get away on a long awaited holiday or visit to loved ones and the financial loss is accompanied by a personal loss.

“Every year we are contacted by members of the public who have been the victims of fraudsters, the majority through online scams.

“We urge travellers to follow the tips that we have put together in partnership with the police and Get Safe Online to stop travel fraudsters in their tracks.

“We would also encourage anyone who has been the victim of a travel-related fraud to report it to Action Fraud so that the police can build up a case, catch the perpetrators and prevent other unsuspecting people from falling victim.”

Detective Chief Superintendent Dave Clark, City of London Police head of economic crime, said: “The internet has revolutionised the way we look for and book our holidays.

“The unfortunate reality is that it is also being exploited by fraudsters who use online offers of accommodation and flights that do not exist or promising bookings that are never made to rip off unsuspecting holidaymakers.

“The nature and scale of holiday fraud means police action alone can only be part of the solution to this problem. Online shoppers must be vigilant and conduct all the necessary checks before booking a break to ensure the conmen are kept at bay.

“I would also urge anyone who has fallen victim to a holiday fraud to contact Action Fraud. Doing this will help the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau to identify and target those most responsible for this harmful and upsetting crime.”

Get Safe Onlne chief executive Tony Neate said: “A holiday is often the most expensive thing people will purchase in a given year. So, take your time and do as much research as you can to check the provider is safe.

“It is often much easier to find proof a company is legitimate than evidence they are fraudulent. Look for confirmation from others who were happy with the service, call the vendor, and only make payment arrangements once you feel as confident as possible they are legitimate.

“Most importantly, never transfer directly into bank accounts. None of these scams will work unless you hand over your money.”