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We asked you who's left you feeling ripped off
when it comes to your holidays,
and you came back with a catalogue of travel disasters.
It was a nightmare. That particular day was a nightmare.
First impressions when we walked in was what have we booked?
What have we paid for? It was disgusting.
So whether it's a deliberate rip-off, a simple mistake or indeed
a catch in the small print, we'll find out why you are out of pocket
and what you can do about it.
Your stories. Your money.
This is Rip Off Britain.
Hello, and welcome to a sunny edition of Rip Off Britain.
We've come to the island of Lanzarote
and we're here to investigate even more of the problems with holidays
and travel about which you've been telling us.
And all of the people whose stories we're going to be featuring today
have the very same thing in common -
every of them has been tricked out of their money, handing it over
for something that, in most cases, just didn't exist.
However, it's fair to say that only became clear far too late,
by which point they were left not only without the holiday
they'd been planning but seriously out of pocket as well.
And what's more, the stress of trying to resolve some of these
situations has been pretty horrendous not least because,
as you'll see, several of them were a lot more complicated
and indeed expensive than your average trip away.
And, of course, what makes it particularly interesting
is that a good few of these scams unfolded in situations likely to be
very similar to how you may book your next holiday.
So, if you're starting to dream of that sunshine break -
and let's face it, who isn't at this time of year? -
then we've got plenty of advice
to help stop you ending up out of pocket.
Coming up, a Mexican villa that didn't even exist -
so why was it advertised on one of the best-known websites
in the accommodation-booking business?
We were angry, frustrated, you know, we looked for reassurance
and they gave it to us, telling us it will all be OK and it wasn't.
It was horrific.
And the company accused of tricking people into signing up for a holiday
deal unlikely to turn out how it was promised.
I just feel total scammed by them and I think what we feel is
something we would have used, we really can't use at all.
Now, while many holidays booked in the UK are still organised
through big tour operators, there are plenty of trips abroad
that you're more likely to need to sort out yourself.
Take, for example, a hen party, which, because of such a big group
travelling together, can't always be organised as a package deal.
Instead, chances are that everyone might be staying, for example,
in a large villa, so whoever has the joy of arranging it all
will need to either liaise directly with the owner
or use one of the booking sites that advertise villas to rent
right across the world. But we've heard from dozens of hen party
revellers who, despite doing both those things,
still came a very costly cropper indeed.
They used one of the best known booking sites to book their
accommodation and they spoke to the owner,
so how did they end up handing over thousands of pounds for villas
they never even got to stay in?
With so many hen parties now taking place in the sun...
Oh, you look lovely, Nicky.
..organising everything is a much bigger challenge
than simply arranging a night out for a few friends.
So when Mel Allen was asked to be maid of honour by her best friend,
Nicky Kerr, she knew that sorting out the hen party was going to be
a big part of her role.
We sat down one evening and said,
"It'd be great if we went somewhere really special,"
being a bit more mature ladies and we'd have a bit of fun
and so we decided we'd like to go to Marbella in Spain.
And the first priority was finding a villa big enough
to fit all 21 of them.
Mel searched online and soon found plenty of options
on the villa-booking website OwnersDirect.
We were so excited and choosing one with a big pool, three hot tubs
and it seemed to be everything that we really wanted
for our weekend away.
OwnersDirect host ads for thousands of private villas all over the world.
When you find one you like the look of, you contact the owner directly
to find out more, and then you make your booking.
So when Mel came across a villa that ticked all their boxes,
she did just that.
I made contact with the owners, which were called Rainbow Villas,
and looked just what we were looking for and the lady was so friendly
and it seemed like it was going to be the perfect weekend
that we were looking for.
The owner of Marbella-based company Rainbow Villas - not to be confused
with companies with similar names - used the name Michelle
and told Mel that included in the price was a drinks reception
on arrival and a fully-stocked drinks bar for them to use
during their stay.
The whole package sounded amazing, so we all got together and said,
"Yes, let's book this and pay the 25% deposit."
A long weekend in the villa would cost the hens around £4,000
which they could pay in instalments.
But they were also told they'd need to pay by bank transfer -
something that made Mel a little bit nervous.
I asked if I could use a credit card
but was told there wasn't that facility.
So I went back onto the OwnersDirect website and it said
clearly on there, "It is secure to use by bank transfer
"but we advise you make contact with the villa owner,"
which I had already done but I did just give OwnersDirect a little ring
to just check that out and was told, yes,
if I've made contact with them it was fine to go ahead and do that.
So, reassured that it would be OK,
Mel collected the money from all 20 other hens and paid Rainbow Villas
in three instalments, the last one being just eight weeks
before they were due to fly to Spain, in June 2015.
It was very exciting, it was going to be a fabulous weekend,
and one that Nicky would remember.
Meanwhile, in Sheffield, Olivia Parsisson and her hens
were looking forward to their long weekend in Marbella,
in another of Rainbow Villas' properties.
We'd booked what was supposed to be a millionaire's mansion
for the three nights,
paid £5,750 for it.
It had a hot tub, Jacuzzi, saunas, bang in the middle of Marbella.
It were going to be me last holiday, me last real girls' holiday.
Just as Mel had, Olivia contacted Rainbow Villas directly.
She too got on really well with the owner and she also agreed to pay
the cost - £5,750 - in four instalments, by bank transfer.
Everything seemed legitimate.
There was nothing to make me think otherwise.
She'd let us have the villa for a little bit longer
due to flight times when we were leaving.
Just thought she was lovely, really.
But just three weeks before their departure dates,
Mel and Olivia both received an e-mail from Rainbow Villas.
It was just saying, "Do not travel. We have ceased trading.
"Find alternative accommodation."
So you can imagine I was absolutely devastated.
Just said, "Don't travel to Marbella as there will be nowhere to stay."
I just burst into tears.
Mel and Olivia both e-mailed back
asking whether they would be refunded.
But Rainbow Villas didn't reply.
With only a week and a half to go, Mel turned to OwnersDirect for help.
I asked them if they could help us find somewhere else
cos my immediate reaction was, "What am I going to do?
"I'm going to ruin my friend's hen weekend which..."
And nowhere for these ladies to go that had all got the flights booked.
But they said they couldn't help us with that, either.
After getting a similar response, Olivia looked online to see
if there was anyone else in the same situation.
And she very quickly stumbled across a Facebook group
full of stories that sounded just like hers.
Worse still, there were other parties that had booked into the same villa
on exactly the same dates.
I couldn't believe it. The weekend that me and my hens were booked
there was another hen party and another stag do.
So that were just one weekend,
so in one weekend that would have been...close to £20,000.
Mel and Olivia both realised that,
in all probability, they'd been scammed.
And with their travel insurance policies either not covering fraud
or situations where companies cease trading,
they had little chance of getting their money back.
Both now faced having to tell their friends what had happened.
I rang Nicky and said, "I've got some devastating news for you,
"but this villa we've been looking forward to for weeks and weeks
"and planning sitting by that pool and in the hot tubs and whatever...
"it doesn't exist."
Both groups did ultimately have their big parties in Marbella,
booking and shelling out for completely different accommodation.
But between them they lost almost £10,000 to Rainbow Villas.
And we've spoken to four other groups of hens who were duped
in exactly the same way - and who also paid out thousands.
Although investigations are ongoing, police in the UK and in Spain
believe Michelle at Rainbow Villas was taking identical bookings
for up to eight villas in and around Marbella.
Unfortunately, all the parties we've spoken to who lost money
to Rainbow Villas paid via bank transfer and as a result,
I'm afraid they stand very little chance of ever seeing
all of their money again.
In 2015, we featured the case of a family who were scammed the same way
after paying by bank transfer for a villa
they'd found on the OwnersDirect site.
At the time, the company told us it had introduced
a new online payments system which would refund up to £10,000
lost in fraudulent bookings.
But that doesn't apply to all villas and only applies if owners
have paid extra to offer it, which a scammer is unlikely to do.
So we asked OwnersDirect whether, to protect customers, it would consider
making that scheme mandatory for all its advertisers.
And OwnersDirect responded with some very good news indeed,
telling us that by the end of 2016, all its bookings
will be made through a secure, online system on its website.
Which means the future customers will automatically
have their bookings protected.
Sadly, that doesn't help Mel and Olivia, although OwnersDirect
did tell us that under the site's Free Basic Rental Guarantee
each group may be able to get up to £700 back to split between them.
The company went on to stress that customers who don't book online
should pay by credit card where possible,
also suggesting insurance is available for added protection.
But it apologised to anyone who had booked with Rainbow Villas
through the OwnersDirect site,
saying that this was "an extremely rare situation,
"where a previously legitimate owner acted dishonestly."
The company said that, following its own investigation,
it had removed these listings, and offered some financial help
to holiday-makers who did not have travel insurance.
We also contacted Michelle at Rainbow Villas
but as yet we haven't had a response.
And while our hens did still enjoy the replacement trips they were able
to book, the gloss was very much taken off by what had happened.
It's not just about money.
It's the cost of emotional and stress that it causes to everybody,
and there isn't a price on that, actually.
Now, while you might be just a bit sceptical about any offer you get
on the telephone from a company that you've really never heard of,
the chances are that you're going to be much more likely to consider it
if it comes from a name you know or trust.
So, when several Rip off Britain viewers were contacted by what
appeared to be a business with which they were already familiar,
they just didn't think twice about signing up to what sounded like
a fantastic deal.
Unfortunately, however, things were not what they'd seemed.
And not only did it turn out that they'd given their money
to a company about which they knew absolutely nothing,
but they weren't going to get what they'd been promised, either.
For Vanessa and Maurice Roeves, summer means two things -
a holiday in the sun and, as they're doing now,
taking in the Festival in their home city of Edinburgh.
How did he do that?
But when Vanessa received an unexpected call
from someone claiming to be from a time-share company,
it seemed the caller had some tricks of their own up their sleeve.
Vanessa distinctly remembers the caller saying she was calling
on behalf of Diamond Resorts -
a well-known holiday club the couple had been members of since 2001.
We trust them, the quality of the holidays,
we've never had to complain about a holiday.
Vanessa listened to the details of an offer that sounded very appealing -
three weeks accommodation in any of the company's worldwide resorts,
for just £395 for the pair of them.
We were looking at going to the Far East
and we had a conversation about whether that might be a good way
of going to Vietnam, Cambodia - the places we wanted to visit.
Already tempted, when the rep called back later that day,
adding an extra week's accommodation to the offer for no extra cost,
the couple eagerly snapped it up.
It didn't come across as unusual.
So I agreed and I paid by credit card.
It seemed the offer didn't have to be used straight away.
In the meantime, the couple had already booked a break
at a Diamond Resorts holiday club in Tenerife.
And it was only when they were out there, talking to the manager,
that Vanessa and Maurice started to have doubts about the amazing deal
to which they'd signed up.
He expressed surprise and said,
"Oh, well, normally we're told what offers are out there,
"don't recall that one."
And that's the first time I got a warning bell.
After the couple arrived home, they received their paperwork.
And though the deal did apparently exist,
none of the documents mentioned Diamond Resorts at all.
In fact, the holiday was actually with Resort Management Direct -
a company Vanessa insists she'd never heard of.
So she immediately rang them to find out what was going on.
I got somebody who told me that absolutely no way had the words
"Diamond Resorts" ever been used,
that I must have misheard.
Vanessa is adamant that the original caller had told her
she was from Diamond Resorts.
But not only did Resort Management Direct deny this,
it also now told Vanessa that it didn't even have any resorts
in the places to which the couple had hoped to travel.
I by then had checked on their web page and there was no USA resorts,
Canadian, nothing in Cambodia, nothing, in fact, in all of...
-Not in Vietnam.
-No. Nowhere that we had wanted to go.
Worse still, it now transpired that the offer that Vanessa claims
she'd been told had no deadline, did, in fact, have an expiry date.
Whereas I'd been told it was no time limit
suddenly it was a three-year time limit.
The couple immediately asked Resort Management Direct for a refund
of the £395 they'd paid.
But the company refused,
saying they still had plenty of time to book four weeks
in any of its resorts.
However, all of those resorts are in places Vanessa and Maurice say
they'd never have wanted to visit.
I just feel total scammed by them and I think what we feel is
something we would have used, we really can't use at all.
We've spoken to others who say either they or someone in their family
has also felt unhappy after being talked into signing up a deal
with Resort Management Direct.
85-year old Eileen Nuttall from Leicestershire paid more than £600
for five weeks of accommodation in the UK and Europe
after the company cold called her.
But as Eileen isn't fit to travel, her daughter is very suspicious
as to how exactly her mother was persuaded to sign up.
101-year-old Pat Slade from Chessington paid £199 over the phone
to a caller from Resort Management Direct.
Pat says they claim to be from the time-share company
that she'd been a customer of for 25 years.
And Carol and Adrian Wilson from Harrogate
say when they were cold called it was again the mention of Diamond Resorts
that made the deal sound more plausible.
I received a call out of the blue from a person who was offering us
two weeks at a choice of venues in the UK and in Europe
for up to six people for the sum of £200.
Adrian was suspicious that it was too good to be true.
But a month later there was another call, with the same offer.
This time the name Resort Management Direct was mentioned
but the caller said the couple was eligible for the deal
because they'd been customers of Diamond Resorts in the past.
Believing that it was a genuine offer,
we thought it was quite good value.
Oh, great, cup of tea. Just what we need.
After paying £199 over the phone
the Wilsons received a list of hotels
and plumped for one in Stratford.
But during the booking process, Adrian was asked some unexpected
and rather sensitive questions that he simply was not happy answering.
It was necessary to put in quite a lot of personal information,
such as present income and age and I left those off.
But Resort Management Direct said that if Carol and Adrian
didn't provide them with all the information they wanted
they wouldn't be eligible for the offer for which they'd already paid.
I put in my age and date of birth and so forth
but as far as income's concerned I gave an adjusted figure.
Next, Resort Management Direct told Adrian that before they made his
reservation, the couple would need to confirm that they were willing to
attend a sales presentation whilst they were staying at the hotel.
Reluctantly, we agreed to do that.
And so we thought that we would now finally be able to get this booking.
Because after all that, Resort Management Direct told Carol
and Adrian that, in any case,
they were too old to be eligible for the offer.
I was over 60 and Carol was over 60, yeah.
So we couldn't be accepted because of that.
No-one had ever mentioned age in the telephone call originally
and we were told that there were no strings attached.
Adrian asked for a refund but, insisting the restrictions
had always been made clear, Resort Management Direct refused.
-We really felt we'd been taken for a ride.
-It was mis-sold, really,
from the beginning.
But what about others who've paid out for this particular deal?
How likely is it they'll be able to
stay in the hotels they believe they've booked?
Well, when we checked the website of Resort Management Direct,
we saw that they offered accommodation in 62 different hotels
in the UK, Europe and a few other rather more far-flung destinations.
We contacted more than 60 of these hotels
and of the ones that responded, not one of them said they had ever
taken a booking from Resort Management Direct.
In fact, the vast majority of them said they'd never even
heard of the company. Several of the hotels have since said that they are
going to be taking action to ensure that their hotels are removed
from the Resort Management Direct website.
A number of time-share consumer groups have warned customers
not to get involved with the company, after receiving complaints.
Among those is Diamond Resorts which told us it is in no way
affiliated with Resort Management Direct,
and has never passed on its customers' data to the company.
International Property Lawyer Stefano Lucatello is all too familiar
with the way these companies work.
They have hundreds of telesales people with information,
they're all on targets and they're there to capture people
and prey on people who are not aware of what's going on.
They'll receive a telephone call, and the next thing they know is
they've parted with their money
and they'll never receive their contracted product.
However, when we contacted Resort Management Direct,
the company told us that it has had more than 45,000 clients
and that disgruntled customers like the ones we've heard of
are "most definitely the exception rather than the rule."
It went on to claim that its customer satisfaction levels are higher
than those of some of the major holiday companies.
But when we asked about all those hotels on its website
which, when we checked, had told us they had no relationship whatsoever
with Resort Management Direct, it didn't respond.
Luckily, both the Roeves and the Wilsons were able to get the money
they'd paid out back from their credit card companies.
But they've got advice for anyone else who receives a similar offer
out of the blue.
If anybody gets a call like this,
don't touch it with a bargepole, I would say.
Don't enter into any agreement with anyone
who is offering you something cheap.
Still to come on Rip Off Britain, another holiday that didn't exist
and the family conned out of their cash after booking to stay there.
The girls came home from school, bags were packed.
Very excited little girls. And I just said
some bad people had took Mummy's money and there was no caravan
and we wasn't going away.
There definitely can still be benefits to booking through
a high street travel agent but over 70% of us are now said to
arrange our holidays online.
Many of us do it through sites that have become familiar names,
such as the accommodation website Booking.com.
It boasts of more than 6.3 million rooms
booked through the site every week.
But it seems even Booking.com isn't immune from the scammers.
Because what happened to the group in our next story is something
you might imagine occurring after using some dodgy site
no-one's ever heard of,
rather than one of the biggest names in the business.
The ruins at Tulum are one of Mexico's best preserved
and most visited ancient sites, the walled city all the more
evocative thanks to its beautiful coastal setting.
So when newlyweds Karina and Alex
were invited by some of their closest friends to spend New Year
with them there, it sounded the perfect way to bring in 2015.
So what attracted us to Tulum was just being very close to the beach,
being in a tranquil, peaceful environment away from everything,
just stroll down the beach, be around all your friends,
looks really, really special.
Finding a place to stay that was suitable for the whole party -
nine people, including two children - was key.
So the friends turned to online accommodation provider
Booking.com. And it seemed they were in luck.
Wow, look at that view.
This villa just popped up we thought this is absolutely amazing, you know,
beautiful pool, right by the beach, it was amazing.
The luxurious villa boasted impressive sea views,
a terrace for relaxing and, most importantly,
6 en-suite bedrooms sleeping up to 18 people.
And as you can see from these stunning photos, there would be
plenty of room for the whole group to celebrate the New Year in style.
The pictures of it looked idyllic. There was a swimming pool,
you had your own private beach, there were kayaks.
It had everything you'd ever need on a beach holiday.
Now we're going to try out Mexico.
So the friends agreed to go ahead and pay 8,100
to secure the villa through the Booking.com website.
Once we had booked it they had asked for our credit card details
and we put those in online and we got a confirmation back
saying, "Yep, all great".
But shortly after the group had received their confirmation e-mail
they got an e-mail from what appeared to be the villa's owner,
saying he needed payment by PayPal instead of by credit card.
We actually checked, we called up Booking.com
and said is this normal and they said to us at that time,
"It's all fine. We just take your card details,
"we don't take the money off it
"and, yes, this is how it's done, you can pay them via PayPal."
Reassured by Booking.com,
the group made the payment via the PayPal website.
You always have your doubts when you're doing these sort of things
but we are doing it through Booking.com and they are telling us
it's all safe.
But the villa's apparent owner then contacted them again.
This time, he said the PayPal transaction hadn't gone through
so the money would now have to be paid by bank transfer.
Nervous about doing that,
the group called Booking.com for a second time to double check
that it was OK to send money directly to the owner of the villa.
They said, "You're completely fine on that level
"and if the worst did happen, we will find something better
"or equal to within the same area,
"so just relax, guys, there's no stress. This is going to be fine."
With Booking.com's reassurances ringing in their ears,
Karina and Alex transferred the money
and began to look forward to their trip.
And the day of departure soon came round.
So off we go, excited we're going on holiday, you know,
we're going to Mexico, and we get on that plane.
But when Alex and Karina landed in Mexico, they were greeted by
a text message from their friends who'd already arrived,
telling them to head not to the villa they'd booked but to a hotel
some 40km away from where they were supposed to be staying.
And there was a very worrying reason why.
They revealed that they had been driving round for several hours
looking for this villa. They were asking locals,
they were so concerned they couldn't find it.
They went to the exact coordinates on Google Maps
and there was nothing there.
When they couldn't find the villa,
Karina's friends had called the offices of Booking.com
back in the UK who'd confirmed their worst fears.
Booking.com said, "You guys, we're actually, you know...
"Hate to say this, but this villa does not exist.
"We can't get hold of the owner."
Clearly whoever it was the group had been dealing with,
it wasn't the genuine owner of the house they'd seen.
Instead, they'd transferred their money to a scammer who'd set up
a fake listing using photos of a real villa somewhere else.
Karina and Alex were at a complete loss as to how a respectable,
big-name website such as Booking.com could have not only let a fraudster
advertise a fake villa in the first place but, worse still,
reassure them every time there'd been a warning sign along the way.
At that point when they told us that we had been right all along
we were distraught, we were angry, frustrated,
you know, how could they put us in this position?
These alarm bells were going off and we looked for reassurance
and they gave it to us, telling us, "It will all be OK," and it wasn't.
It was horrific.
Booking.com did find the group alternative accommodation.
But, being the busiest time of year, there'd been little choice
for a party so big and they'd ended up being split between two hotels.
The one Karina and Alex ended up in made for a very different break
than the quiet and secluded one they thought they'd booked.
-This hotel was...
..the biggest resort I've ever seen in my life.
It had shopping centres, bowling alleys...
Compared to what we thought we were getting it was the polar opposite.
But even with this new booking there was a hitch.
The manager of the hotel told them that because Booking.com hadn't yet
paid for the group to stay there
they would have to either pay for it themselves or leave.
We're now being asked to fork out...something, 18,500.
But we had to do it in order to not be stranded
and out on the street again. So we did. We paid it.
Two days before the end of their week long break,
Booking.com was able to find the group somewhere more suitable
to stay in Tulum - the town they'd originally booked to stay in.
But by this point, as far as Karina and Alex were concerned,
the whole holiday had been ruined.
By now we were shattered
and, you know, as a group, there was a lot of stress between us.
As soon as the friends got back to the UK,
they got in touch with Booking.com.
And whilst the company refunded the 18,500 that the group had paid
on their credit cards for the alternative accommodation,
it wasn't prepared to offer any compensation
for the loss of the villa they'd booked.
Booking.com is among the best known of the accommodation websites
that have become the standard way millions of us
arrange our accommodation around the world.
Founded in his Amsterdam attic by computer scientist
Geert Jan Bruinsma in 1996,
it now employs 10,000 people across the world
and claims to be "Planet Earth's #1 Accommodation site."
When we asked the company what went wrong this time,
it apologised for the disruption and inconvenience caused,
telling us that the group were
"victims of a highly sophisticated fraud",
the likes of which have affected only a very small number
of the hundreds of millions of bookings taken on the site.
Booking.com reiterated that despite there being "extremely limited"
alternative accommodation available in such a peak travel period,
it had "immediately relocated"
the group to an all-inclusive five-star resort.
And the company told us that, as a result of this incident,
it has and will continue to improve its fraud detection measures,
to "identify and remove" the very small number of fraudulent listings
"at the earliest opportunity."
But if like Karina and Alex you're wondering
how one of the biggest names in the business came to be offering
a fraudulent listing, well, perhaps the explanation
lies in the small print of the Booking.com site,
where it's made clear that the information shown is based on
the details sent by the accommodation provider
and the company itself can't be held responsible
if any of that turns out to be untrue.
In other words, if you assume that because it's a big name site
everything's been checked or vetted - think again.
So is there any way of knowing if the accommodation you see
on such third party booking sites is the real deal?
Our technology expert, David McClelland,
says there are ways you can check.
Consider doing a reverse image look up.
And that's where you, in some browsers, you can click on the image,
and you can do a search for this image.
Tap on that and it will show you where else on the internet
that image appears.
Now, if the villa you're looking at happens to be in - I don't know -
in the south of Italy, yet you see identical images also appearing
for villas in Florida, in France, in Florence, then perhaps
that's a reason to be concerned that that villa is not what it seems.
We tried that out with the pictures that had been used on Booking.com.
When we did we came across the genuine listing
from where it seems those photos were pinched.
Something else you can do is take a look at Google Maps
or Google Street View, in particular,
and if the images you see on Google Street View match up in no way,
shape or form with the property that you believe that you're going
to be renting out, then maybe one or two alarm bells should ring.
Sound advice, but too late for Karina and Alex,
who remain astounded that using a big name site they thought
they could trust ended up giving them
the worst holiday they've ever had.
For me, the most frustrating thing about this whole thing was
how Booking.com dealt with the issues. It felt like they didn't know
what they were doing or how they were going to solve this problem quickly,
so it just left us just very, very distraught.
Our travel expert, Simon Calder, is sharing his top tips
on favourite destinations across the globe.
This time it's London.
It's Simon's home city and as popular as ever with the tourists.
But watch out, not everyone is as trustworthy as he is.
So you're walking along and you see some people apparently winning
quite a lot of money for doing nothing more difficult
than pointing out which of these cups
has the ball underneath it.
Be warned - all of those people are in on the scam.
Someone will say, "Why don't you have a go?"
So you put down your money, thinking you're going to double it
in a second - in fact, you're going to lose the lot...
and to make your day complete
you might even be having your pocket picked at the same time.
London's skyline has had plenty of dramatic new additions
in recent years,
and there's one new spot Simon recommends to get the best view.
Just book in advance and you can visit the Sky Garden at the top
of the "Walkie-Talkie" skyscraper,
and discover the most surprising view in London, completely free.
20 Fenchurch Street, as it's officially known,
has a public access scheme that enables you to explore life
hundreds of feet above the city streets.
For my money - not that you need any -
it's an even better view than the £25-a-pop Shard,
because you feel that you're really at the heart of the capital.
And here's our Londoner's inside tip for the best way to see
the sights for a fraction of the price.
You could spend £30 on a round-London sightseeing bus
or do the economy version for just £1.50 aboard the number 11.
It takes in many of the capital's great landmarks -
the Bank of England,
St Paul's Cathedral, Fleet Street, Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square,
Westminster Abbey and the King's Road through Chelsea.
Now, a particularly memorable story from our Holiday series last year
involved a number of people who'd all booked a stay in the same
seaside caravan only to discover that the caravan didn't actually exist,
leaving them not only without a holiday but also without the money
to pay for another one.
Well, there has been an update on that particular tale.
But meanwhile, I'm sorry to say,
a very similar situation appears to have happened with another
caravanning holiday and another family,
and a family that, quite frankly, desperately needed a break
rather more than most.
You ready for a sandwich?
Emily Cressey has defied the odds.
When she was born prematurely at 24 weeks she weighed just 1lb 3oz,
so fragile that her parents, Alan and Claire, couldn't hold her.
We was told to expect that she wasn't going to live, basically.
She was in hospital an hour away from home
in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in Intensive Care.
It was very, very stressful, difficult time
and the situation remained like that for about four months.
But now Emily is thriving.
And in August last year, when she was 15 months old,
Claire decided the whole family -
and especially Emily's three older sisters -
were ready for a much-needed break.
We wanted something for the girls, to pay them back to say, you know,
"You deserved this, you've been through so much."
So we saved hard... and for quite a long time.
Claire's search started on social media
where she sent out a message asking if anyone could offer
a week's holiday in a caravan by the seaside for the six of them.
We decided we'd look for the Skegness area, you know,
with four girls, so different age ranges, so we needed something
to accommodate everybody
and that just seemed an ideal area at the time.
Claire quickly got a response from someone offering a week long stay
in their caravan at the Coral Beach Caravan Park in Skegness.
It's quite close to all the amenities
and it was just perfect for our family.
Over the next few days, Claire contacted the apparent owner
a number of times to make sure the caravan and the site
had everything the family would need.
It had the full three bedrooms, so that everybody had a room
of their own and they accepted pets, so that was important to us, too,
so we could take our family dog.
Not wanting to miss out, Claire transferred the full £350
directly into the seller's bank account
and sent a message via Facebook to confirm she'd paid.
I inboxed her on Facebook to say,
"Can you just check your bank? We've put the money in.
"Can you just confirm that it's been put into the right account,
"I haven't got any digits wrong?"
And I was waiting for the holiday confirmation.
But then the owner of the caravan went suspiciously quiet.
My message, it had come up as seen and there was no reply.
Claire immediately knew something wasn't right.
I'd had such a good communication, double checking things,
making sure that it was OK for the babies and...
there was just no reply. I just knew straight away.
Fearing the worst, Claire contacted the caravan park to see if it had
any record of her booking or had a caravan owner
with the name of the person with whom she'd been dealing.
I then did what I should have done in the first place,
I rang Coral Beach and tried to verify the details
and...the name I gave to the receptionist,
she confirmed there was no owner on their caravan park of that name.
There was nothing I could do.
Wait for Mum.
Claire had lost both the week away and the £350 she'd paid for it.
But perhaps the worst part was yet to come.
The girls came home from school.
This was two days before we was due to set off on holiday.
Bags were packed, by the door.
Very excited little girls.
And I just said some bad people had took Mummy's money
and there was no caravan and we wasn't going away.
These sort of scams are, unfortunately, not uncommon.
Jane Ryan, Dagmar Gove and Becky Watts had between them
lost over £1,000 to a woman called Emma Fewings
who was falsely advertising holidays
in what turned out to be non-existent caravans.
Mum-of-four Becky was horrified when she realised the truth.
I felt absolutely deflated, I felt sick to my stomach,
I felt cheated, I felt angry, all bag of emotions.
Lovely, thank you.
Action Fraud told us it had received no less than 150 reports
linked to the same supposed caravan owner.
It's not just devastating knowing the fact that there's no holiday
but it's upsetting for all the families involved,
for the children especially.
We're all in the same boat, we're all extremely angry.
We put all these points to Emma Fewings. She didn't respond.
But since we filmed, she pleaded guilty to 12 different charges of fraud
and was sentenced at Plymouth Magistrates Court
to a 12-month community order
and ordered to pay £3,860 in compensation.
And back in the Scottish Borders,
Claire is hoping for a similar resolution.
The police have investigated, and though arrests have been made,
the case is still ongoing.
We tried contacting the person Claire had been dealing with...
..but so far haven't received a response.
And Facebook, where Claire had come across the scammer originally,
told us that it is working with her
to try and get to the bottom of the matter.
But we're delighted to say that for Claire and her family
there was a happy ending.
After their story was featured in the local paper, an anonymous donor
gave the family £350
which they used to buy a genuine holiday.
They just gave the money, they had no reason to, just sheer kindness,
which made a big difference to the way we felt about the situation,
and that taught the girls that there are good people out there.
If you have a story you'd like us to investigate then you can always
get in touch with us via our Facebook page,
BBC Rip Off Britain,
our website, bbc.co.uk/ripoffbritain
or you can e-mail us:
Or if you would prefer to send us a letter, then our address is:
Well, as we've seen from today's stories, the sad reality is that
wherever you book your holiday and however trusted the names are
that are help you do that, scammers always find a way to take advantage,
particularly if they're dead-set on deliberately ripping you off.
The way they usually do that is somehow hijacking the payments
process and in particular coming up with some sort of reason
why you need to transfer your money directly into their account.
So, if there's just one piece of advice you take away
from today's programme, please make it to always be cautious of anyone
wanting you to pay in that fashion.
Because if things do go wrong you won't have the protection
that you'd get by, for example, using a credit card.
And on that cautionary note I'm afraid we have to leave it
for today. We'll be back investigating more of your stories
very soon, but until then, if you are planning a holiday we obviously
hope that everything goes completely smoothly,
but if it doesn't that you'll write and let us know about it.
Thanks for joining us today.
-From all of us, goodbye.