Special Report: Advantage calls for watch list to counter agent fraud

Special Report: Advantage calls for watch list to counter agent fraud

The boss of Advantage Travel Partnership is calling on consortia and industry bodies to back calls for a new watch list to prevent agent members committing fraud.

The Prevention of Fraud in Travel (Profit) group has been working with Advantage and City of London Police to set up the portal.

Chairman Barry Gooch said it would be modelled on a similar hub used in the telecoms industry to stamp out fraud.

As well as being a mechanism to report suspected fraud, the portal will include details of disqualified directors and relevant information pulled from Companies House so it can be found in one location.

Gooch said he was also speaking with The Travel Network Group and law firm Field Fisher to set up the hub.

“Our aim is to reduce the risk to consortia and businesses. It affects everyone in the industry.

“We want to make it harder for fraudsters to pull the wool over peoples’ eyes.”

Gooch said he had also started writing a ‘standard’ for consortia, with guidelines on how they should vet new members. While he couldn’t give a figure on how much fraud costs the industry, he said it was a “considerable amount”.Managing director Julia Lo Bue-Said said currently there were “too many loopholes” in the industry potentially allowing dishonest agents to move from consortium to consortium unchecked.

Her appeal comes after homeworker and former Advantage member Rita Hunter was convicted of dishonestly making false representation for defrauding the consortium out of tens of thousands of pounds by paying for customers’ holidays with former clients’ card details.

Collaboration


Lo Bue-Said said that without industry collaboration she feared similar frauds would be committed because there is no system in place to check agents’ backgrounds.

She said currently when Advantage receives membership applications, it does its own bankruptcy and financial checks. However, she says there is no easy way of knowing if a member has committed fraud or had their contract terminated in controversial circumstances at other consortia previously, meaning these agents could continue to operate.

Lo Bue-Said wants to see a central portal set up that would require all consortia, as well as Abta and the CAA, to report suspected fraud, and for a register to be kept of fraud convictions.

Any information relating to suspected fraud would be passed on to police to investigate, and consortia would be able to consult the portal when they receive applications from agents and make a decision based on their findings.

Advantage is working with anti-fraud group Profit to set up the portal and wants other organisations to back the scheme to help get it up and running by the end of the year.

Lo Bue-Said said: “These individuals are out there and will continue if we don’t have a more joined-up approach. Collaborations with other industry parties are essential. At the moment there is a big loophole. People play the game because they know there are gaps in the system.

“It has given us insight into how the industry needs to collaborate and be better informed.”

Checks


Lo Bue-Said said that while rigorous checks and regulations are offered to consumers to protect themselves against fraud, they do not exist for business-to-business crime in the travel industry.

She said the portal would also help protect small and medium businesses, including homeworkers, which were particularly vulnerable.

Is a fraud ‘watch list’ a good idea? Email amie.keeley@travelweekly.co.uk


Profit in talks with consortia and City of London Police


The Prevention of Fraud in Travel (Profit) group has been working with Advantage and City of London Police to set up the portal.

Chairman Barry Gooch said it would be modelled on a similar hub used in the telecoms industry to stamp out fraud.

As well as being a mechanism to report suspected fraud, the portal will include details of disqualified directors and relevant information pulled from Companies House so it can be found in one location.

Gooch said he was also speaking with The Travel Network Group and law firm Field Fisher to set up the hub.

“Our aim is to reduce the risk to consortia and businesses. It affects everyone in the industry.

“We want to make it harder for fraudsters to pull the wool over peoples’ eyes.”

Gooch said he had also started writing a ‘standard’ for consortia, with guidelines on how they should vet new members. While he couldn’t give a figure on how much fraud costs the industry, he said it was a “considerable amount”.

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