Holiday Hell

Reporter: David Richardson

Australians love a good holiday, spending more than $50 billion a year on travel and accommodation but scammers are ripping us off. "There's no doubt that scammers are taking alot out of Australia. The bureau of statistics predicts with all these scams were talking about a billion a year" says Peter.

Cold calls from overseas companies offering dream deals are rife, luring hundreds of holiday makers into scams. "$99 and you've got $1,000 worth of accommodation and stuff like that. We've had those calls yeah" says Sara. Stuart and Sara Battle didn't fall for the phone scam. They booked their holiday with an official travel company but still didn't get what they paid for. "Definitely the worst holiday and the most expensive holiday" says Stuart.

They paid more than $5000 for a dream trip to Queensland's Whitsunday Islands. "What did you think you were getting? "Basically a resort, a proper resort. A relaxing place and also somewhere that could deal with my wife's celiac problem." Sara ended up virtually chained to the bathroom with illness because of the food. "It was like stuff you put in a pot and boil in a plastic bag and serve up in one of those heating dishes. Thats about it" comments Sara.

Sick almost every day, the Battles were forced to leave their holiday early. Nothing was like the air-brushed photos in the glossy brochure. "Heard that story alot, in fact more than 20% of inquiries through a traditional travel agent is the result of a disgruntled internet person" says Jason Westbury. He is the Chief Executive of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents or AFTA.

It was once a cottage industry but thanks to the internet, its become an international plague. The latest scam to hit our shores involves bogus holiday vouchers. "Often those scams are a double whammy scam. The actual accommodation you purchase is real, it does exist, you are eligible for your six nights at $299 what they don't tell you is it costs $4,500 in airfares to get there" adds Jayson.

"The holiday voucher scam, we get about 25 complaints a month, when it comes to the lead up to Christmas that jacks up to 200 or so a month" says Peter. Peter Kell from the ACCC has cracked the voucher scam. Deals like this, a weeks accommodation for $99 in Bali or Thailand, even Mexico or Florida or within Australia. They cheekily even offer a money back guarantee on accommodation that simply doesn't exist. "In some cases they end up with nothing at all. In other cases they go to the hotel and the hotel has never heard about it. The shabby amateur of a long time ago is no longer around. We've got very professional operators running these sorts of scams. They have well developed scripts they have professional looking material" says Peter.

"The bad guys are based all over the place wherever it suits them. It could be north America. It could be Asia. It may be Eastern Europe. It doesn't take much these days to set up a web site or a bank of phones in operation" adds Peter. Another problem area - visa companies. Websites that offer to provide visa waivers for the United States but require personal details and information that can be used for identity theft.

"Its a scam in that you're providing this information to an off-site, non Australian entity. You're providing details about your personal identity and the same part is what the company is actually doing with all that personal detail" says Jayson. You're also paying for something that is free if you go to the official ESTA government sanctioned website.

Karina and her family were also duped by the internet. Their holiday flat on the Gold Coast was meant to be fully renovated - it was a wreck. "We wanted to go on holiday to relax. We wanted something nice and when we got there it was not renovated... it was terrible. I've never stayed in a place like that before. I'd rather have stayed at home. It was absolutely disgusting" says Karina.It cost Karina $1,500. She'll never go to Queensland on holidays ever again.

From the experts, this warning...

"Be wary. Everyone deserves a holiday at this time of year but book it with someone you know and trust" advises Peter.

To report a scam contact the ACCC visit: www.accc.gov.au

or contact AFTA on www.afta.com.au

And if you're a victim of a holiday scam, send us an email : tt@7perth.com.au