When the world was hit by Covid-19, travel was the first activity to be grounded. Afterward, travel agencies, tour operators, and the hospitality industry suffered a heavy blow. Scammers and cybercriminals posing as travel agencies made a lot of money by taking thousands of people for a ride, in a welcome fallout.

Cyber fraudsters targeted consumers with emails/offers of cheap tickets for last-minute travel and holiday packages, said a senior cyber official, who said the pandemic-induced travel restrictions not only affected travel agencies, airlines, and others but also affected cyber fraudsters. Due to the lockdown, crimes involving fake travel package offers and air ticket fraud have fallen.

The story of a 62-year-old who lost 12.26 lakhs to a travel agent fraud

According to the police, a 62-year-old man was duped by a Mumbai travel agent into paying Rs 12.26 lakh for the trip to Mecca and Madina for him and his family members in order to perform Hajj.

This man, a former Central Railway employee, has filed a police complaint in Nagpada, as reported in The Indian Express. In addition to saying the accused was a friend of the complainant, they said he promised to arrange the wedding of the complainant's daughter at a mosque in Saudi Arabia. An FIR was filed last week.

Firoz Alam Naziruddin Khan, the complainant who lived in Jijamata Nagar, Worli, before shifting to Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh said that the travel agent is a close friend of his, and they had gone to Mecca in 2017 with their families.

On his return from Mecca, the accused offered to arrange another trip for the family to perform Hajj for Rs 28,000 per person. The trip was for December 2018, and Khan was planning to get his daughter married, the accused said he knew people who would help arrange Khan’s daughter’s wedding there

Khan, therefore, paid Rs 4.76 lakh in advance. Bookings were made for 17 people, including his family and his son-in-law’s family.

Another offer was made by the travel agent for a trip to Mecca and Madina for Rs 25,000 per person in December 2019. A total of Rs 7.5 lakh was paid to the agent for 30 members of his family.

In March 2018, Khan shifted to Ghazipur but later in October when he contacted the accused for their trip, he asked for more money. The accused told khan that he will have to pay more, after which Khan asked him to return the advance following which he promised to arrange the trip in February 2019.

According to the police, the accused repeatedly postponed and then canceled the trip. The accused has not yet returned the complainant's money.

Travel Agents Can Defraud You! Protect Yourself!

If you're planning to take a pilgrimage to Makkah or Madinah, you don't want to experience any kind of fraud from the travel agents since you've already paid a lot for easy-going accommodations and hotel reservations in Makkah and Madinah. Since no one wants to be scammed, these days travel frauds are so common, mostly because of the nature and the abundance of travel agencies.

As a result, you should be very careful when choosing travel agents. Follow these tips to avoid scams.

Travel Agents should have appropriate protection

Regardless of where you are from, the travel agent you choose should have an authentic document for protection. Check with your travel agent about the bond or license before giving them the amount of your trip. Due to this, you may have a chance of getting your money back if anything goes wrong when dealing with your travel agent.

Travel insurance can protect you

Travel insurance may seem expensive, but it can make a difference between inconvenience and financial ruin. It will protect you from losses, theft, cancellations, and damages during your trip, which will give you some peace of mind and allow you to relax.

Find out the facts

Be sure that you are fully informed about your trip before you pay for it, as well as how much each and every aspect of your trip will cost. In addition, the travel agent should inform you of how cancellation fees will be charged, when or under what conditions, what will be your travel plan and how much each aspect of your trip will cost.

Travel offers that come up out of the blue should be avoided

You receive a phone call from your travel agent telling you that you have won a free flight or that you are eligible for the best deal for Umrah, for example. Someone might use this to steal your identity or to steal your money. Be wary of any spontaneous or unplanned offers.

Use a protected payment method

You can use Vouch when you're paying an advance to the travel agent. In case he scams you, you can always have your money back. There's no chance of fraud and scam when your transaction is backed by Vouch.

How does digital escrow work?

In digital escrow, a third-party account holds the money deposited by the buyer until the seller fulfills the terms of the contract. The escrow company supervises the transacting parties.

What is the role of Digital Escrow in preventing online fraud in India? 

Digital escrow services are offered by many companies in India. Among the most trusted is Vouch.

Vouch’s Digital Escrow service is a transparent way for buyers and sellers to build trust and secure a clean transfer of product and payment. Sellers can feel assured that they will be fairly compensated promptly, and buyers will feel confident that their order will be delivered as expected and on schedule. Vouch Digital Escrow keeps you updated and informed at every step of the transaction process till the end. Vouch’s professionals are always available to assist you with all queries that you may have during the entire transaction process. 

There is no scope for deceit or fraud since the payments, shipping, delivery, and execution are carried out under the honest and watchful eyes of the Vouch’s professionals. With Vouch, any business transaction becomes transparent, uncomplicated, and hassle-free. If you ever come across a fraudster asking for OTP, asking you to scan a QR code, or asking you to click on phishing links, you can simply refuse and ask him/her to proceed with the transaction through Vouch.​

This is Fraud Story #168. Check back here for more fraud stories and scams that you can protect yourself from.

​Safety is not just about protecting your credit, debit card number, and UPI accounts. It's about having control of your money till you've received the product or service you bought online!

Note: This is a good-faith initiative to educate the world about avoiding frauds like these and how to act when you're becoming a victim of such a situation. 

Do you have a fraud you would like to report? Please write to us at letstalk@iamvouched.com