Episode 6 Rip Off Britain


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Episode 6

Angela Rippon, Gloria Hunniford and Julia Somerville investigate viewers' holiday disasters. The team look at the holiday homes booked online that turn out to be a con.


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Transcript


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We asked you who has left you feeling ripped off

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when it comes to your holidays.

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And you came back with a catalogue of travel disasters.

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We said, "No, we're going to stick with this

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"and we're going to try and get something done about it."

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When you are on holidays,

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you don't want to fight with people, you just want to enjoy.

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So whether it's a deliberate rip-off, a simple mistake,

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or a catch in the small print...

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We'll find out why you're out of pocket and what you can do about it.

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Your stories, your money.

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This is Rip-Off Britain.

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Hello and thank you so much for joining us

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for a taste of winter sun here on Rip-Off Britain.

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Now this time we're in the Canary Islands, investigating more

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of the holiday stories that you've been kind enough to send us

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and to look into on your behalf.

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And why sometimes in this series, the reason why a trip has gone wrong

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is all down to a straightforward, honest mistake.

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I'm afraid that's not the case with the stories

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you're about to hear today.

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Far from it.

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There's no mistake, honest or otherwise, in these situations.

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In fact, let's not beat around the bush.

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Most of the cases can best be described as out and out scams.

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Indeed they are.

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And whether or not they're designed to catch you out

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while you're booking your holiday or when you're actually there,

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some of these scams are ones that

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could very easily be targeted at you.

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So we're going to have plenty of advice to make sure that

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you know exactly what to do to avoid being tricked out of your cash.

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Coming up...

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a long-awaited family holiday

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grounded by a flight that never took off.

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But had it ever really existed in the first place?

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I couldn't actually believe it cos we packed everything,

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we planned everything and then it's just got cancelled.

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And booking a holiday home online.

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Could the one you've picked be a scam?

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It was horrible, it was absolutely horrible.

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I realised that we'd been scammed out of £4,000.

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Now, as we know from so many of the stories that we've covered

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in the past, scammers can strike absolutely everywhere.

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But it's when we're on holiday that perhaps

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we're a fraudster's favourite target.

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Let's face it, we're relaxed, may not fully understand the language

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and you're probably not really wise to the tricks

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that they've been pulling all summer long...

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and why the sisters in our next film didn't actually consider

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themselves an easy target.

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They weren't banking on a group of people working together

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to con them out of their cash.

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And worse still, it wasn't until they got home

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that they discovered the scam had an even nastier sting in the tail.

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Sisters Alma Elliot and Theresa Snelling

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have always been very close.

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And after Alma's husband died in 2013,

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they decided to take a holiday together to get away

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from the stresses of all the arrangements.

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I was really exhausted, having to sell, you know, like,

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the home we'd had for 20... over 25 years.

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It was quite an emotional time.

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We were working very hard sorting out her house

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and so we just needed a break.

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They booked a ten-day holiday in Tenerife and when they arrived,

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straight away set about seeing what the local town had to offer.

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They were looking at sunhats at a beach-side shop called Goodwill

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when they were approached by two men,

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who told them they had something inside the shop

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that the sisters might be interested in.

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So, intrigued, the ladies went in

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and were greeted by a further four men.

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All the people in the shop were very, very friendly

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and really made us feel quite comfortable.

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The ladies were led to the back of the store

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and one of the men attempted to talk Alma into buying a camcorder

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made by a manufacturer called Pentasonic.

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He started to give the pair a demonstration of how it worked.

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The man was showing us just what it could do

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and it seemed quite fascinating

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and I thought I'd like one.

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In fact, Alma and Theresa were so convinced by the sales patter

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that they decided to buy one each.

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Theresa paid 273 euros, that's just over £200,

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and she paid for that on her credit card,

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while Alma put the same amount on her debit card.

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But instead of being able to take their camcorders

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with them there and then, the shop manager told them to collect them

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on the last day of their holiday, after he had translated

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the cameras' internal menus from Spanish to English.

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Reluctantly, the sisters agreed, but they left feeling very uneasy.

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We realised that we had paid for something that we hadn't got

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and if we were going to go back on the last day,

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they could come up with, "Oh, there's been a problem."

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So we thought we would go back early and surprise them.

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And when they did, as well as picking up their camcorders,

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the shop manager also tried to give them a mini-tablet each.

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We said no, we didn't want them

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and we weren't interested in them,

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but they said they were for free.

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But he persisted, claiming that the mini-tablets were part

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of a special promotion by Pentasonic.

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The only snag was that the tablets would also need to be

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translated into English and to get their gift,

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the sisters would have to come back to the shop yet again.

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Well, Alma and Teresa agreed,

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but, still feeling unsure about the camcorders they'd bought,

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they popped into another shop nearby,

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looking for reassurance about their purchases.

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And for whatever reason, the manager at that shop told them that,

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yes, they had got an amazing deal.

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We felt a lot happier after being in there,

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because this was a photographic shop

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and we felt that we weren't being...

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..conned.

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So, reassured, the next day, Alma and Theresa went back

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to the original shop, Goodwill, to collect their free tablets.

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But before they could leave,

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the manager persuaded the sisters to buy a couple of cases for them.

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When I put my card in, I was checking the amount

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and I was surprised because it was 88 euros

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and I thought it was going to be a bit less than that.

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This time, they both paid by using their debit cards.

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But when Teresa asked for her receipt,

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the shop manager insisted that he'd already given it to her.

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Well, I was annoyed so I thought, "Well, I'll just make a note,

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"88 euros, I'll see what comes onto my card."

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They returned home to Somerset confident that, for 361 Euros,

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each of them had got a great deal on a brand-new camcorder,

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tablet and case.

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But Alma's daughter, Beth, helps her mother to manage her finances

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and regularly checks her Lloyds Bank statements.

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And when she next logged on to her mum's accounts,

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she was appalled at what she found.

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I went onto my mum's bank account

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and I noticed that she was quite severely overdrawn.

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I could see that the debits were from abroad.

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Over £2,750 had been taken out of her account by the shop,

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Goodwill.

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I knew instantly that this wasn't correct.

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Theresa also banks with Lloyds

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and when she then contacted the bank,

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she was shocked to discover that the shop had taken

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a total of £5,000 from her bank account and her credit card.

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Suddenly...

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my world turned upside down.

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Because to us, it was as clear as day that we had been scammed.

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Beth immediately looked into how the sisters might be able

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to get their money back and discovered that,

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because they'd paid with their credit and debit cards,

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they might be able to claim a refund

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using the little-known chargeback scheme,

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which can help if there's been fraudulent activity on your account,

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or indeed, you haven't got what you paid for.

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I told them to go into the bank the next day

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and ask them to initiate the chargeback process.

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And a few days later, when Beth checked Alma's account again,

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she was relieved by what she saw.

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I noticed that she had been re-credited with all the money

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that had been taken and I was thrilled.

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And I rang her immediately to tell her and then the next call I made

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was to my aunt because I naturally presumed that the same

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would happen to her.

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However, this wasn't the case.

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Although Theresa was refunded for the fraudulent activity

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by her credit card company, when she contacted the bank again

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to check that she, too, would get back the money

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taken from her bank account, she was given very different news.

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I just cannot understand how the same bank,

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who we've both been with for over 50 years,

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could treat two sisters so differently.

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We weren't told anything, they never gave us a reason.

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It was just decided.

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And Beth is far from impressed with the products the ladies bought.

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As soon as I opened it up,

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I was a little anxious about it and nervous about it.

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We took some footage with it, we tried to connect it to our laptop,

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but we couldn't do that, it didn't work.

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The first thing I did was research it on the internet

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and sure enough, all my searches came back with warnings

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about Pentasonic and this not being the camera you believe it to be

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when you buy it.

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We contacted the Goodwill shop in Tenerife for an explanation.

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As yet, they haven't replied.

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As for the camera manufacturer, Pentasonic...

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well, we haven't been able to track them down.

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In fact, we couldn't find any evidence

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that such a company even exists.

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But we also contacted Lloyds Bank to see why one of the sisters

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had received a refund, while the other didn't.

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And this time, we got a very positive response.

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The bank told us it's "sorry for the experience"

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that Alma and Theresa had

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and it understands the distress that this type of situation can cause.

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It stressed it takes all cases of fraud,

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"Very seriously and always looks into them on an individual basis."

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As a result, Lloyds has, "Now reimbursed both customers

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"for the money that was debited from their accounts,"

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and has also given Theresa an additional £250

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for the delay in their decision.

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Jane Negus from the UK European Consumer Centre

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has some pointers on how to protect your money

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when you're shopping abroad.

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When you buy electrical goods abroad,

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the first thing we would say is that if something is very cheap or,

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you know, somebody is trying to convince you

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it's a really good deal,

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make sure that is actually the deal that they're saying.

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Go off and do a bit of research first before you actually purchase.

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Use a credit card if it's over £100, it will give you added protection.

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If your bank refuse your claim, you can take it further,

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whether it's a debit or a credit card,

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and take it to the financial ombudsman.

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And while Alma and Theresa are very relieved to have their money back,

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the entire experience has left a lasting impact.

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I suppose my whole view of the world is different now.

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I don't feel it's such a safe place any more.

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Now, we hear a lot from people whose holidays didn't go to plan.

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But whatever went wrong,

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they did, in most cases, at least get to their destination,

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which is more than can be said for the family we're about to meet.

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Because, despite promises and assurances even just hours

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before they were due to take off,

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they still don't know to this day for certain whether the holiday

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they booked and paid thousands for had ever really existed.

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Amanda Chin and husband Kok Wah have been running a takeaway

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in Shrewsbury for the last 14 years.

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Hello, Bamboo City.

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Yes, for delivery or pick up?

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It's taken many hours of hard work to build up the business,

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and although it's now thriving, Amanda and her family have only ever

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taken seven days off in all the time they've worked there.

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Since then, the family has hardly been going out anywhere.

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Just working seven days a week, same every day.

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So in July 2014, Amanda decided it was time for the whole family,

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including her grandma, who lives in Malaysia,

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to take a holiday together.

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We hardly see them.

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Probably Christmas time or Chinese New Year time.

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This was the first time since they all came to England

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about 20 years ago.

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And the perfect opportunity seemed to present itself

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when one of their regular customers, James Brown,

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offered Amanda what appeared to be a great deal.

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Mr Brown said he was setting up a new company called

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Wales European Aviation,

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with its own airline, flyWEA.

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He explained the company offered private charter flights and trips

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and he could put together a package for Amanda and her family.

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He said, "As you're a good friend, we'll do you a good deal

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"with all the packages and I'll sort everything out for you."

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James Brown said he could take Amanda and 18 of her relatives

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to Disneyland Paris for £170 per person.

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That would cover two nights accommodation and entry tickets

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to the park and return flights.

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What's more, they would be able to take the flight

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from Welshpool Airport, which was just 20 miles away

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from Amanda's home.

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Children have been asking me almost every year that they want to go

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to Disneyland because their friends are going there,

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their friends have been there and they haven't been there.

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So it was their very first holiday where they wanted always.

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James Brown told Amanda that, in order to get the trip booked,

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he would need all the money, a total of £3,230,

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in cash up front.

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I think I had asked him if I could transfer it to him,

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but he said, "I'll be around, you can pay me cash when it's ready."

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And he said, "OK, once you've got it,

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"and then I'll come down and pick it up."

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And then he just came down straight away.

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So, with the holiday paid for, all that was left for Amanda to do

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was to organise the arrival of her grandma travelling over

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from Malaysia and try and contain the excitement of the children.

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Once we'd paid and everybody was just...

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Actually, the kids started packing,

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they were that excited and getting ready and things

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and all their lists of what to bring.

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We don't usually go on holiday very often

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and this was, like, one in years.

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We were going to Disneyland because it would be a good experience

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because I've never been there before.

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I was looking forward to all the rides and all the characters.

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And on the 11th August, their wait was finally over.

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The morning of the holiday had arrived.

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My girls, they hardly sleep that night

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because they were that excited.

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It was to be an early flight,

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so Amanda made sure she was up and about to get everyone ready

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and check any final details.

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I came in and checked my e-mail.

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Just said, "Urgent message, the holiday had to be cancelled today,"

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cos the plane was still in Spain.

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"It's got a fault so they need to check it out before coming back."

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The e-mail said that the holiday would simply be delayed by a day.

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Amanda tried calling James Brown, but couldn't get through.

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She e-mailed to find out more,

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but then had to break the news to the rest of the family

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that they wouldn't be taking off that day as planned.

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I thought it wasn't true, like, I thought it was just a joke.

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I thought that my mum was joking.

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I couldn't actually believe it cos we packed everything,

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we planned everything and then it's just got cancelled.

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For the rest of the day,

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everyone waited whilst Amanda tried to get answers.

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There were plenty of e-mails, with lots of updates and excuses,

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but still no plane.

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Finally, at 1am the next morning,

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he said the flight would not be going ahead at all

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and said they could either change the date or get a refund.

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All the children, just sitting there, in tears and crying

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and somewhere in their room.

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Everybody's just upset.

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This feels like they were all trusting me at first about all this

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and then suddenly, all this...

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Behind, they may be thinking I'm part of this,

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I'm trying to rip them off and take their money.

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But, no, it's hard to explain.

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It's nothing to do with me, it's this guy.

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As the family began to come to terms with their disappointment,

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Amanda set about trying to their money back.

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I asked him to transfer to my bank and then I gave him my bank details

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and he said he couldn't make it to the bank.

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And then I said,

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"You can pop it down to me or I can come to pick it up

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"from you, if it's not convenient for you."

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But when, over a week later, there had been no sign of James Brown,

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or indeed her refund, Amanda and her family became increasingly angry.

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Over the next month, Amanda tried repeatedly to get their £3,230 back,

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but with no success.

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All she got was excuse after excuse.

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Then he said he had to go in hospital,

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so it took him a few days and then I got back to him.

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He came back and said...

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..er, he'd been having too much problems with families and companies

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and that his company has got some financial trouble

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and then he said he needed to borrow money from his friend to pay me off.

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Two months after she was due to fly,

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Amanda was told by James Brown that his company was being "wound down"

0:17:430:17:47

and that he was going to borrow money from a friend to pay her back.

0:17:470:17:50

But all the excuses were beginning to wear very thin.

0:17:500:17:53

It was almost every day that people, all the friends and family,

0:17:530:17:56

ringing to ask me, "How's it going?

0:17:560:17:58

"How's the payment? When will we receive it?"

0:17:580:18:01

I said, "I've never upset so many people in one go, all 19 of you."

0:18:010:18:05

And that's when Amanda got in touch with us.

0:18:050:18:09

We decided to check out James Brown's credentials,

0:18:090:18:12

to see what chance there had ever been

0:18:120:18:14

that he could fly the family to Disneyland Paris.

0:18:140:18:17

In order to fly a plane commercially,

0:18:170:18:20

James Brown would need an Air Operator Certificate,

0:18:200:18:23

registered with the Civil Aviation Authority.

0:18:230:18:25

But when we contacted them, they told us that,

0:18:250:18:28

although flyWEA had been in touch,

0:18:280:18:31

they weren't processing an application for the company

0:18:310:18:34

or any other operator working for them.

0:18:340:18:37

As a result, it would have been illegal for him to take Amanda

0:18:370:18:40

and her family on this trip.

0:18:400:18:42

What's more, the CAA added that for James Brown to provide the flight

0:18:420:18:46

and accommodation package he had promised,

0:18:460:18:49

he would also need an ATOL licence, which flyWEA did not have.

0:18:490:18:53

We also contacted Welshpool Airport,

0:18:540:18:57

where the flight had supposedly been due to take off.

0:18:570:18:59

It said they had never heard of flyWEA or James Brown.

0:18:590:19:03

And they pointed out their runway is too short to accommodate

0:19:030:19:07

the type of plane that James Brown claimed would be flying.

0:19:070:19:10

Clearly, James Brown has a lot of explaining to do.

0:19:100:19:14

But despite us contacting him,

0:19:140:19:15

he hasn't responded to any of our questions.

0:19:150:19:18

And Amanda and her family are still out of pocket to the tune of £3,288.

0:19:190:19:26

Next time, I'll make sure.

0:19:260:19:28

You know, probably go to a proper agent

0:19:280:19:30

and make sure it's actually confirmed before telling them

0:19:300:19:33

and making them too excited.

0:19:330:19:35

But it will be a while for the next family holiday to happen again.

0:19:350:19:40

Still to come on Rip-Off Britain,

0:19:460:19:48

the families who all had the same disastrous experience

0:19:480:19:51

with the caravan holidays they'd booked.

0:19:510:19:53

Not only did they end up with no holiday,

0:19:530:19:55

it turns out there was no caravan either.

0:19:550:19:58

I felt absolutely deflated. I felt sick to my stomach.

0:19:580:20:02

I felt cheated, I felt angry.

0:20:020:20:05

All...bag of emotions.

0:20:050:20:07

Last summer, we took the whole team out on the road,

0:20:110:20:14

once again opening up our annual consumer advice clinic,

0:20:140:20:17

this time in the West Midlands.

0:20:170:20:20

You told us about all kinds of holiday-related problems,

0:20:200:20:24

some of them rather nasty, like the Mediterranean cruise

0:20:240:20:27

that Annalise and Amanda came to tell Simon Calder about.

0:20:270:20:31

Sometimes, when you come out to have your breakfast

0:20:310:20:34

and you went to toilet, there was all sewage up there.

0:20:340:20:37

As soon as we got back, we told them everything

0:20:370:20:40

and they just sent a letter saying everything had been sorted now.

0:20:400:20:44

You got nothing, that's it.

0:20:440:20:45

I've got the letters at home and they've never really apologised.

0:20:450:20:48

So no compensation, nothing beyond saying,

0:20:480:20:51

"Well, things are fixed now"?

0:20:510:20:53

Two weeks on that cruise, it had been a holiday from hell.

0:20:530:20:56

The conditions on board the ship,

0:20:560:20:58

if it's just unpleasant rather than dangerous...

0:20:580:21:01

Well, that's awful, but there's no way I can see that you can sue

0:21:010:21:05

a company for having a smelly ship.

0:21:050:21:08

But our pop-up shop isn't just about problems.

0:21:080:21:11

It's about giving advice to stop them happening in the first place.

0:21:110:21:15

And travel journalist Alison Rice had plenty of useful tips

0:21:150:21:18

at one of the workshops that we ran over the weekend,

0:21:180:21:21

especially on how to avoid being left out of pocket

0:21:210:21:24

if you're using your credit card abroad.

0:21:240:21:27

My top tip, of course, is if you're using credit or debit cards...

0:21:270:21:32

What they often do in the Eurozone is ask if you want to pay

0:21:320:21:36

in sterling or the local currency.

0:21:360:21:39

And when you use a debit or credit card, if they give the option,

0:21:390:21:43

always say you want to pay in the local currency,

0:21:430:21:46

because actually, the card companies do their own conversion rates

0:21:460:21:50

and guess who is not the winner.

0:21:500:21:52

And the other thing I think you should do

0:21:520:21:54

if you're thinking of using your credit card which...

0:21:540:21:56

Never, ever, unless you're in a dire emergency,

0:21:560:21:59

use your credit card for getting cash out of the hole in the wall.

0:21:590:22:02

That is a very expensive thing.

0:22:020:22:04

Even if you pay your credit card bill every month, they bill you on

0:22:040:22:07

interest from the day you take the cash till the end of the month.

0:22:070:22:11

All good advice.

0:22:110:22:13

And here's another nugget you won't have heard before.

0:22:130:22:16

Teacher Maria Crawford despairs at the cost of going away

0:22:160:22:20

in the summer holidays.

0:22:200:22:21

But Simon's got a money-saving suggestion

0:22:210:22:23

that just could work for you, too.

0:22:230:22:25

The solution I would strongly suggest and I've tired this myself,

0:22:250:22:29

is if you're going to have a holiday in August in Europe

0:22:290:22:33

and you want a beach and you want sunshine,

0:22:330:22:35

then it has to be the Costa del Poland, the Polish Riviera.

0:22:350:22:40

It's fantastic. You could fly to anywhere, from Szczecin in the west

0:22:400:22:45

all the way to Gdansk in the East and you're going to find

0:22:450:22:49

you've effectively got a 300 mile long beach.

0:22:490:22:52

It's really friendly, it's very easy to find good places to stay

0:22:520:22:56

and fantastically good value.

0:22:560:22:58

-You'll be laughing, I promise.

-Thank you.

0:22:580:23:00

Until recently, Jane Ryan, Dagmar Gove and Becky Watts

0:23:050:23:10

didn't have much in common,

0:23:100:23:12

besides their shared love of caravan holidays.

0:23:120:23:15

But now, they've been brought together by one of the most

0:23:150:23:18

shocking stories we've come across.

0:23:180:23:21

All three of them and many others, too, had their holidays ruined

0:23:210:23:25

for the very same reason and by the very same person.

0:23:250:23:28

Mum of four Becky wanted to take her entire family on holiday to Devon

0:23:290:23:33

but, in peak summer season,

0:23:330:23:35

was finding it hard to find anything within her budget.

0:23:350:23:39

There's not many deals out at that time of year,

0:23:390:23:42

purely because obviously it's a prime time.

0:23:420:23:44

But we pushed the boat out. It had been a tough year for the children

0:23:440:23:47

and we really wanted, you know, them to have a good surprise

0:23:470:23:51

and something to really look forward to.

0:23:510:23:53

So when she spotted an ad on Facebook, offering a week

0:23:530:23:57

in a privately owned caravan that was both within budget

0:23:570:24:00

and in a site with beautiful coastal setting called Devon Cliffs,

0:24:000:24:04

she couldn't believe her luck.

0:24:040:24:05

I thought, "Wow." Right at the end of the six weeks holiday

0:24:050:24:09

and it was a cancellation offer.

0:24:090:24:10

And we thought, "Right, we'll go for it."

0:24:100:24:13

The advertisement was on a Facebook Buy and Sell Site

0:24:130:24:17

which, as we've reported before, are a little like classified ads.

0:24:170:24:21

A woman called Emma Fewings was listed as the caravan's owner,

0:24:210:24:24

so Becky messaged her to find out more.

0:24:240:24:27

I didn't obviously speak to her over the phone,

0:24:280:24:31

it was just done through message,

0:24:310:24:32

but really just a really friendly kind of person.

0:24:320:24:36

Delighted to have found an affordable holiday,

0:24:360:24:40

Becky paid the entire £600 cost by bank transfer straight

0:24:400:24:44

into Emma's account and waited for the kids' summer holidays to start.

0:24:440:24:49

Meanwhile, in Newton Abbot, Dagmar Gove was also looking forward

0:24:490:24:54

to her holiday in another of Emma Fewings' caravans

0:24:540:24:57

at Perran Sands in Cornwall.

0:24:570:25:00

I contacted her to say,

0:25:000:25:01

"It's a nice idea, I would like to have the caravan."

0:25:010:25:04

And she said, "Yeah, but you have to pay straight away."

0:25:040:25:07

Dagmar had booked almost nine months earlier,

0:25:070:25:10

paying £450 for a week's stay,

0:25:100:25:12

right in the middle of the school summer holidays.

0:25:120:25:15

Like Becky, she had seen the caravan on a Facebook Buy and Sell site,

0:25:150:25:19

which had boosted her confidence in the deal even more.

0:25:190:25:23

There are several sites from people in our area

0:25:230:25:27

and it's very common you buy and sell everything, so I thought,

0:25:270:25:31

"It can't be a con because this lady is just living around the corner."

0:25:310:25:34

But a month before Dagmar's holiday,

0:25:340:25:37

other families who'd booked the same caravan at Perran Sands

0:25:370:25:41

were seeing their holiday plans unravel.

0:25:410:25:44

Jane Ryan paid £550 for a week in the caravan

0:25:440:25:47

with her husband and two daughters.

0:25:470:25:50

But as the holiday approached, they still had not received

0:25:500:25:53

the caravan keys as they had been promised.

0:25:530:25:56

It stated on the e-mail that the keys would be delivered

0:25:560:25:59

to my home address and I messaged her to say that

0:25:590:26:02

I'd not received any package at all.

0:26:020:26:06

I then had a message back to tell me there'd been a problem.

0:26:080:26:12

The people that were in the caravan a week prior to mine

0:26:120:26:16

had wrecked the caravan and they had taken the keys.

0:26:160:26:20

She said, don't worry, she was 100% certain she could find us

0:26:200:26:25

another caravan for our holiday.

0:26:250:26:27

Suspecting that something was amiss,

0:26:270:26:30

Jane called the company who own the caravan park

0:26:300:26:32

just to double check that Emma Fewings' story stacked up.

0:26:320:26:36

I explained what had happened and I was then told this name

0:26:360:26:41

had been flagged to them the previous week

0:26:410:26:44

and he was sorry to tell me that he didn't feel that

0:26:440:26:47

there was going to be a holiday.

0:26:470:26:50

The rep couldn't give further details, but it turned out

0:26:500:26:53

that Emma Fewings had sold her caravan six months earlier.

0:26:530:26:57

This was the very first time the penny dropped

0:26:570:26:59

that I knew then that I'd been scammed.

0:26:590:27:02

So I composed myself and I rang her.

0:27:020:27:04

She was very apologetic and said that she was, you know,

0:27:040:27:09

more than sure that she would get me a holiday,

0:27:090:27:12

again telling us to pack the car, again telling us to come down.

0:27:120:27:15

Emma Fewings said she'd check with friends on the same site

0:27:150:27:18

whether their caravans were available,

0:27:180:27:21

but Jane's husband, Adrian, was having none of it.

0:27:210:27:24

My husband said to her there was no way that he wanted to pack up

0:27:240:27:28

and come down, not knowing that there'd be a holiday for us.

0:27:280:27:32

She then said did we want our money back

0:27:330:27:36

and my husband said it was probably the best thing to do.

0:27:360:27:41

The following day, Jane's money was refunded in full.

0:27:410:27:44

I said to her, "If there are other families that you've got waiting

0:27:440:27:48

"for this holiday, you need to contact them today.

0:27:480:27:51

"Please don't let them go through what I've gone through

0:27:510:27:53

"these last couple of days."

0:27:530:27:55

Jane wasn't to know others were about to have

0:27:550:27:57

the same thing happen to them.

0:27:570:27:59

Back in Newton Abbot, Dagmar, too, was concerned

0:27:590:28:02

when she didn't receive the keys either.

0:28:020:28:04

It wasn't in the post and I was getting a little bit worried

0:28:050:28:09

and that was when it sort of dawned on me that something could be wrong.

0:28:090:28:12

I said, "Not a problem,

0:28:120:28:13

"I have the whole order confirmation with all the details."

0:28:130:28:16

So I phoned the mobile number, but nobody answered.

0:28:160:28:19

Unable to contact Emma Fewings,

0:28:190:28:21

Dagmar posted a message on the Facebook Buy and Sell group,

0:28:210:28:24

asking if anyone could shed any light on the situation.

0:28:240:28:28

She was astounded to suddenly hear from lots of other

0:28:280:28:31

disgruntled holiday-makers who had also booked a stay

0:28:310:28:34

in an Emma Fewings' caravan, but never had it.

0:28:340:28:37

In a weird way, I felt relieved that I'm not the only idiot,

0:28:390:28:43

because I really felt like an idiot.

0:28:430:28:46

And in the other way...

0:28:460:28:48

er, I thought, "Yeah, we have to do something if we are more than one."

0:28:480:28:53

One of the people who saw all the posts about Dagmar's message

0:28:530:28:57

was Becky Watts in Taunton.

0:28:570:28:59

And she immediately began to panic about her own family's holiday.

0:28:590:29:03

I felt absolutely deflated, I felt sick to my stomach.

0:29:030:29:07

I felt cheated, I felt angry, all...bag of emotions.

0:29:070:29:12

When I booked the holiday, I was at ease the whole time.

0:29:120:29:15

She was so reassuring, very prompt at getting back to you

0:29:150:29:18

if you had a question, very friendly.

0:29:180:29:21

Didn't, you know, in one million years think

0:29:210:29:24

that this wasn't going to be, you know, how it ended, whatsoever.

0:29:240:29:29

Lovely, thank you.

0:29:290:29:31

Thank you.

0:29:310:29:32

'Jane, Dagmar and Becky met through a Facebook page

0:29:330:29:37

'that Jane set up for others who'd been let down in the same way.

0:29:370:29:41

'So far, they believe at least 15 people have been affected.'

0:29:410:29:45

It's not just devastating knowing the fact that there's no holiday,

0:29:450:29:49

but it's upsetting for all the families involved,

0:29:490:29:51

for your children especially.

0:29:510:29:53

We're all in the same boat and we're all extremely angry.

0:29:530:29:57

They've all reported their cases to the police and to Action Fraud,

0:29:590:30:03

who told us it had 150 reports linked to the same caravan owner.

0:30:030:30:09

We've also discovered that although

0:30:090:30:10

Emma Fewings DID in the past own a caravan at Perran Sands,

0:30:100:30:14

she has NEVER owned one at Devon Cliffs,

0:30:140:30:17

where Becky was due to take her family on holiday.

0:30:170:30:20

We contacted Emma Fewings for an explanation

0:30:210:30:24

but so far, she hasn't responded to any of our questions.

0:30:240:30:28

We also contacted Facebook,

0:30:280:30:31

who told us that while they couldn't comment on individual cases,

0:30:310:30:35

pages where people buy or sell goods are

0:30:350:30:38

"helpful for local communities",

0:30:380:30:40

so they "wouldn't want to discourage this".

0:30:400:30:44

However, they stressed how important it is to be vigilant

0:30:440:30:47

when buying from someone who isn't an approved retailer,

0:30:470:30:50

and pointed out that they

0:30:500:30:51

"work with the police to help people on Facebook stay safe".

0:30:510:30:55

And Becky, Dagmar and Jane all agree

0:30:550:30:59

they won't be booking their holiday through an ad this way again.

0:30:590:31:04

Next time, I would be a little bit more careful.

0:31:040:31:07

I would try to meet this person, you know, in person.

0:31:070:31:09

I would look up a little bit more information.

0:31:090:31:12

Not just like I did before.

0:31:120:31:13

I would certainly never book like that again.

0:31:130:31:16

I would always go through a proper company.

0:31:160:31:18

For many people, the best holidays are about getting away from it all

0:31:240:31:28

and that can also mean getting away from the bustle of a busy hotel

0:31:280:31:31

and instead choosing to stay somewhere that feels more like home.

0:31:310:31:35

But booking a villa or an apartment

0:31:350:31:37

isn't always as straightforward as it might appear.

0:31:370:31:40

Dozens of websites have sprung up hosting adverts

0:31:400:31:43

from thousands of individual owners.

0:31:430:31:45

But while it might look and feel as if you're booking

0:31:450:31:47

through a travel agency - one that's vetted every property

0:31:470:31:50

and will protect you if something goes wrong -

0:31:500:31:53

that's not necessarily the case

0:31:530:31:55

and it may be too late when you discover that.

0:31:550:31:57

Now Christmas is behind us and we're stuck in our homes

0:32:000:32:03

looking at weather like this...

0:32:030:32:04

it's the time of year when many of us start planning our next trip

0:32:040:32:08

to the sunshine.

0:32:080:32:10

People like Jilly Roberts, a school teacher from Leeds.

0:32:100:32:13

Well, every year we try and go abroad, don't we?

0:32:130:32:16

-Yeah.

-We like to go... Where do we like to go?

-Spain.

0:32:160:32:19

We do like to go to Spain, don't we?

0:32:190:32:22

The family has previously booked their Spanish accommodation

0:32:230:32:26

through a website called Owners Direct

0:32:260:32:28

where homeowners from around the world advertise their properties

0:32:280:32:31

for holiday-makers to rent.

0:32:310:32:33

And so far they've been delighted with the places they've stayed.

0:32:330:32:36

Really nice apartments, very, you know, sort of high spec,

0:32:360:32:39

air conditioned and right on the pool side,

0:32:390:32:42

so that's sort of the standard that we've looked forward to.

0:32:420:32:46

Expecting to match their previous experiences,

0:32:460:32:49

Jilly went back to the Owners Direct site

0:32:490:32:51

and quickly found what she thought was the perfect place in Andalucia.

0:32:510:32:56

It had everything she and the friends they'd be going with

0:32:560:32:59

could possibly want.

0:32:590:33:01

It was just perfect. It was six bedrooms,

0:33:010:33:04

which we needed for the three families, air conditioning.

0:33:040:33:07

It was nicely appointed, it looked very modern on the photographs,

0:33:070:33:12

so it was just, it was ideal really.

0:33:120:33:15

The villa was listed as belonging to a Mr Michael Fitzgerald.

0:33:150:33:19

So Jilly got in touch with him via the website's messaging system.

0:33:190:33:23

He e-mailed back and gave us all the details,

0:33:230:33:25

said it was great for those dates.

0:33:250:33:27

He'd need a deposit, which is standard.

0:33:270:33:29

Michael Fitzgerald said that for 12 people for ten nights

0:33:290:33:33

the cost would be £4,000.

0:33:330:33:36

And to secure the booking,

0:33:360:33:37

he asked Jilly to send him £1,750 via bank transfer.

0:33:370:33:43

In previous years, that's how we've paid for apartments,

0:33:430:33:46

through direct bank transfers to Spanish banks, so, you know,

0:33:460:33:50

we had that sort of element of prior knowledge

0:33:500:33:53

that gave us a bit more security there.

0:33:530:33:55

So we transferred the money across.

0:33:550:33:58

Safe in the knowledge that their villa had been reserved,

0:33:580:34:02

Jilly started planning the trip

0:34:020:34:04

and a few weeks later, she paid the outstanding balance of £2,250.

0:34:040:34:09

But six weeks before they were due to depart,

0:34:100:34:13

Jilly received a worrying e-mail from Owners Direct.

0:34:130:34:17

The e-mail said we have reason to believe that

0:34:170:34:19

this villa is not legitimate, and my heart just sank,

0:34:190:34:23

it's what you're worried about.

0:34:230:34:25

In the back of your mind, there's always that niggling sort of doubt,

0:34:250:34:28

because it does happen, you hear about it happening.

0:34:280:34:31

Jilly immediately tried to get in touch with Michael Fitzgerald

0:34:310:34:34

on the number Owners Direct had given her.

0:34:340:34:36

No reply at all.

0:34:360:34:38

In fact it was a Spanish message

0:34:380:34:41

saying this number has been discontinued,

0:34:410:34:43

so there was a bit of a panic there.

0:34:430:34:46

So Jilly turned to Owners Direct to see if they could help.

0:34:460:34:49

I said, you know, "Is it possible it's a mistake?"

0:34:490:34:52

They said, "No, it's not a mistake

0:34:520:34:53

"but we can't tell you because of data protection."

0:34:530:34:56

So the initial thought was, "Right, we can't go on holiday

0:34:560:34:58

"and I've got to tell all my friends that this isn't happening."

0:34:580:35:02

So it was horrible, it was absolutely horrible.

0:35:020:35:05

I realised that we'd been scammed out of £4,000.

0:35:050:35:10

Jilly had to break the bad news to her family and friends.

0:35:120:35:16

I knew that when I told the children

0:35:160:35:18

that we potentially wouldn't go on holiday

0:35:180:35:21

that they would be absolutely heartbroken and there were tears,

0:35:210:35:24

it was horrible. They were so upset.

0:35:240:35:27

I felt terribly guilty, I felt it was my fault.

0:35:270:35:30

With Michael Fitzgerald now off the radar,

0:35:300:35:33

Jilly hoped Owners Direct might come to the rescue.

0:35:330:35:37

But the company told her the maximum compensation it could offer

0:35:370:35:40

would be £700 which still left Jilly and her friends

0:35:400:35:44

£3,300 out of pocket.

0:35:440:35:47

I was cross when they said £700 was the most we were going to get back

0:35:470:35:51

because as far as I was concerned,

0:35:510:35:53

yes, they'd just advertised the villa

0:35:530:35:56

but, you know, you do have a responsibility.

0:35:560:35:58

I think they need to be a lot more vigilant,

0:35:580:36:01

they need to be able to see the deeds of the property,

0:36:010:36:04

they need to have all that evidence on file

0:36:040:36:06

before they can actually advertise.

0:36:060:36:08

When we contacted Owners Direct, the company reiterated that

0:36:080:36:12

Jilly had received the maximum available

0:36:120:36:14

from the free guarantee they provide

0:36:140:36:17

but pointed out that additional insurance IS available.

0:36:170:36:20

They're sorry she experienced online fraud,

0:36:200:36:23

saying that "one hard-earned holiday ruined is one too many"

0:36:230:36:27

and stressed they're doing all they can to tackle this

0:36:270:36:30

with "a Trust and Security team in place to identify

0:36:300:36:33

"and remove any fraudulent listings".

0:36:330:36:37

As a result, they say,

0:36:370:36:38

"Less than 0.1%" of customers fall victim to frauds like this one.

0:36:380:36:43

"But as a further security measure, they've recently introduced a

0:36:430:36:47

"secure online payment system

0:36:470:36:49

"offering up to £10,000 protection to combat

0:36:490:36:52

"the activities of increasingly sophisticated cyber criminals".

0:36:520:36:56

But Jilly and her family are not the only ones

0:36:580:37:01

to have been taken in in this way.

0:37:010:37:03

Scams like this are global,

0:37:030:37:05

affecting not just Brits going abroad,

0:37:050:37:07

but people from other countries coming here.

0:37:070:37:11

Sally Nordfelt and her nephew Ben live in Australia.

0:37:110:37:14

Over the internet,

0:37:140:37:15

they told us how last year Sally had booked accommodation in London

0:37:150:37:19

on a website called FlipKey.

0:37:190:37:21

It was advertised as a four-bedroom apartment

0:37:210:37:24

near the Natural History Museum and we thought this is amazing.

0:37:240:37:30

The owner asked for a £925 deposit - half the total cost.

0:37:300:37:36

He provided me with an e-mail with all of his banking details

0:37:360:37:39

so I did like a bank transfer to their account.

0:37:390:37:45

But after that, Sally heard nothing more from him.

0:37:450:37:48

I was stressing and so while we were travelling to the UK,

0:37:480:37:52

I had my daughter trying to e-mail him all the time,

0:37:520:37:55

two days before we were going to arrive in London

0:37:550:37:58

and I had called him about three times on his mobile

0:37:580:38:02

and I finally got an answer

0:38:020:38:03

and his response was that they had renovators in.

0:38:030:38:09

Claiming asbestos may have been found in the property,

0:38:090:38:12

the owner cancelled the booking.

0:38:120:38:14

Sally wasn't thrilled at having to find new accommodation

0:38:140:38:17

at the last minute, but she only started doubting the truth of what

0:38:170:38:20

she'd been told when she had problems

0:38:200:38:22

trying to get back her deposit.

0:38:220:38:24

I got in touch with FlipKey as soon as he cancelled it

0:38:240:38:28

and I gave them a copy of his e-mail and they just said,

0:38:280:38:31

"Oh, we just suggest that you liaise with the owner and sort it out

0:38:310:38:36

"and get your refund from him." And that was it.

0:38:360:38:40

And over a year later, Sally is still waiting for the property owner

0:38:400:38:44

to send any of her deposit back.

0:38:440:38:47

FlipKey, part of TripAdvisor,

0:38:480:38:50

told us that while they're sorry to hear about Sally's experience,

0:38:500:38:54

they always advise site users to pay

0:38:540:38:56

using the company's payment platform,

0:38:560:38:58

NOT directly to the owner.

0:38:580:39:00

If she had, she'd have qualified for the site's

0:39:000:39:03

"Peace Of Mind Guarantee".

0:39:030:39:05

They added that after advising her to liaise with the owner

0:39:050:39:08

about a refund, they heard nothing more

0:39:080:39:11

and if they'd known he hadn't paid up, they'd have tried contacting him

0:39:110:39:15

and, if necessary, removed the property from their site.

0:39:150:39:18

Tony Neate is an expert on online security.

0:39:210:39:25

He says if you're hunting for a holiday home online, it's up to YOU,

0:39:250:39:29

not the website you're using, to make sure you don't get scammed.

0:39:290:39:33

It's your responsibility to make sure that property exists

0:39:340:39:37

and that you're paying the right person.

0:39:370:39:39

So you can research the individual

0:39:390:39:41

and you can research the property that you're looking to rent.

0:39:410:39:45

There are lots of websites that give reviews,

0:39:450:39:48

see the time span that those reviews are over

0:39:480:39:51

because what we find is that these criminal enterprises

0:39:510:39:54

pick a particular property,

0:39:540:39:56

but they will only stick with them for six or seven months,

0:39:560:39:58

because, of course, once people start going there,

0:39:580:40:01

they start telling other people that they're fraudulent.

0:40:010:40:04

But Jilly, who's lost over £3,000 AND her holiday,

0:40:040:40:08

thinks the websites that unwittingly advertise fraudulent properties

0:40:080:40:12

should be doing more to help.

0:40:120:40:14

I do think that they have a responsibility to ensure

0:40:140:40:18

that the people that booked through them are looked after.

0:40:180:40:21

And they just need to maybe make sure that

0:40:210:40:23

they are more vigilant in policing their website.

0:40:230:40:27

If you've got a story you'd like us to investigate,

0:40:350:40:37

then get in touch with us via our Facebook page

0:40:370:40:40

BBC Rip Off Britain,

0:40:400:40:42

our website, bbc.co.uk/ripoffbritain

0:40:420:40:46

or e-mail us at:

0:40:460:40:47

Or if you want to send us a letter,

0:40:510:40:53

then our new address is:

0:40:530:40:54

You know, not all of the scams we've heard about today are ones

0:41:070:41:10

you could necessarily have spotted in advance,

0:41:100:41:13

but quite a few of them are avoidable

0:41:130:41:15

if you know exactly what to look out for.

0:41:150:41:17

And quite often, it comes down to advice that actually

0:41:170:41:19

we've given out on this programme plenty of times before,

0:41:190:41:22

not least to be wary of companies that say that you can only pay them

0:41:220:41:25

by bank transfer.

0:41:250:41:27

With trusted traders, that can sometimes be OK.

0:41:270:41:30

But in the cases you typically tell us about,

0:41:300:41:33

not only have you ended up losing your cash,

0:41:330:41:35

but you also don't have any of the recourse you'd have got

0:41:350:41:38

if you'd paid by credit card.

0:41:380:41:40

So when it comes to a sizable purchase like a holiday

0:41:400:41:42

or a flight ticket, it's always safest to pay by card.

0:41:420:41:46

That's especially true if you're dealing with a company

0:41:460:41:48

that you've never heard of before.

0:41:480:41:50

I'm afraid that's where we have to leave you for today.

0:41:500:41:52

But please do keep telling us about anyone at all that's left you

0:41:520:41:55

feeling ripped off, on any subject, not just on holidays.

0:41:550:41:58

And it could be your experience that we'll be looking into

0:41:580:42:01

on a future programme.

0:42:010:42:03

But in the meantime, thanks so much for joining us all here today

0:42:030:42:05

-and we hope to see you again soon. Until then, bye-bye.

-Bye.

-Bye.

0:42:050:42:09

Angela Rippon, Gloria Hunniford and Julia Somerville investigate the holiday homes booked online that turn out to be a con, the family who discovered too late that their long-awaited holiday had never existed in the first place, and the camera scam that led to thousands of pounds being stolen from the accounts of two sisters visiting Tenerife.

Plus the mystery of why so many people booking a holiday in the same caravans never got what they'd paid for, and unmissable advice to stop you being fleeced of your cash next time you go away.