Episode 11 Rip Off Britain


Episode 11

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We asked you who's left you feeling ripped off when it comes to your

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holidays, and you came back with a catalogue of travel disasters.

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When we got to the hotel, it wasn't to the standard.

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We felt totally ripped off. We paid to move somewhere else.

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It happens all the time, that somebody else has paid less

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for the holiday that I've paid more for.

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

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or indeed a catch in the small print,

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we'll find out why you are out of pocket and what you can do about it.

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Your stories, your money - this is Rip Off Britain.

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Hello, and thank you so much once again for joining us here

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on Rip Off Britain, which, throughout this series,

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is coming to you from sunny Tenerife.

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-Yes!

-Because we're going to be looking into some of the problems

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that you've had with holiday and travel.

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And, today, well, we're really going to get our teeth into

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three shocking stories.

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Stories that, one way or another,

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all involve a promise that hasn't been kept and, as a result,

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holidays have been left in tatters.

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And some of you have been left seriously out of pocket.

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Which is not a good position to be in.

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But, you know, for whatever reason the company you trusted

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when booking, either a key part of the holiday

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or indeed the whole thing, simply hasn't delivered on its part

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of the bargain.

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So the question is - did they ever have any intention of doing so,

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or was the whole thing simply a scam?

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Well, that's certainly what the people who have lost out

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want to know and I promise you, we'll be doing our very best

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-to find out.

-Yep. That's one promise you can definitely rely on.

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And, of course, along the way,

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we'll be making sure that by sharing these experiences,

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the same things don't happen to you,

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so that when you hand over your money,

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it's to someone you know you can trust.

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Coming up, the airport meet-and-greet companies

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promising safe and secure parking.

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But, instead, leaving cars in fields or by the side of a road.

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And that's not even the worst of it.

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He basically came to us, said, "Look, your car's in one piece,

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"but, I'm sorry, we have damaged it."

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I was like, "What do you mean you've damaged it?"

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And the bogus holiday companies out to steal your cash.

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They got this couple's, so let's keep their hands off yours.

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I was just in a mess when I spoke to Dan.

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It's just one of the worst things, you know.

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All too often, the start of a holiday can be absolutely

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full of last-minute stresses, as you rush to get to the airport on time.

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And, of course, if you're going to be parking your car there as well,

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well, that can add a whole extra layer of hassle.

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Especially if you've got lots of bags that you need to carry,

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or you need a shuttle bus, for instance,

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to take you back and forth from the car park.

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Well, a solution to all of that has come from the rapid growth

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of airport meet-and-greet services,

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where you'll be met at the terminal by a company that will then park the

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car for you and you can then just head straight off to check-in.

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And the same thing happens of course in reverse at the end of your trip.

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You are met with your car and you can be swiftly on your way home.

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Unfortunately, what happens to your car in between dropping it off

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and then picking up the keys at the end of your holiday

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may not always be quite what you'd think.

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And you might assume your vehicle is being left safe and secure

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while you're away. In some cases, it just could be that

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while you've been on holiday, actually your car has

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been having more fun than you have.

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6:30am on a South Manchester housing estate

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and city council neighbourhood officer Pete O'Brien

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is on the lookout.

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Right, we're just going to check a location that is popular for use by

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some of the...

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..unlicensed meet-and-greet parking companies.

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For the past year, he's been keeping a close eye on some of

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the meet-and-greet services that operate out of Manchester Airport.

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They've promised holiday-makers that there are cars will be

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securely parked whilst they're away, but Pete's found that instead,

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a number of them will be left on the side of the road, in fields,

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even in pub car parks.

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In the peak periods of August,

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there will be whole streets that are taken up by basically what are

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holiday-makers' cars, holiday-makers who think they've parked them

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in a secure car park, but, actually, when they hand

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the cars over to the drivers, they're often just parked

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in locations such as this on your right.

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Pete is part of a surveillance team that's been set up by the council

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following complaints from holiday-makers

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who've had their cars returned in a worse state

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than when they left them, as well as from disgruntled residents fed up

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with other people's cars crowding the streets where they live.

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There's a pub here which is used by the companies.

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We can drive in there now unchecked.

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And this is not manned.

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It's not patrolled, it's not CCTV.

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It's certainly not secure, because we've just driven into it.

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Pete and his colleagues are finding that certain

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meet-and-greet companies repeatedly leave customers' cars

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in locations such as this.

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This car here is probably a driver's car,

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because they've got hi-vis jackets on.

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Often, they'll say it's airport approved logo on the back,

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which it isn't. There isn't such a scheme.

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Car parks like this one probably aren't where owners

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would have expected their vehicles to end up.

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And certainly not after they paid a company to take it somewhere that's

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being sold as secure.

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There's a group of cars there on our right that we know

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this is a location very favoured by several of these companies.

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It's no more secure than leaving it on any residential street.

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Drive it yourself and park your car,

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cos that's effectively what these guys are doing,

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but they're charging you for the privilege.

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Pete is concerned that many holiday-makers may not have

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fully researched the meet-and-greet company with whom

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they've trusted their car.

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And if anything should go missing from the vehicle,

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or it gets damaged, they may discover too late

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that they're not insured.

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If something does happen to your car, whether it be a dent,

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or a scratch, cos of the nature in which they've parked them,

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or possessions go missing from your car,

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sadly you'll find that your car is not covered on your own

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personal insurance in most cases.

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And that's something that Mark Robins and his partner Michelle,

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from Blackpool, found out the hard way after choosing

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a Manchester meet-and-greet company called Airport Parking Solutions

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when they went on holiday last summer.

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We got a last-minute deal, so we thought, why not?

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Yeah, it was really cheap. Somewhere nice and hot.

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We both had a week off work.

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-The only trouble was how we were going to get there.

-Yeah.

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So we ended up going for a luxury chauffeur service.

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Meet-and-greet at the airport.

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What a liability that turned out to be.

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Following the usual instructions for this sort of service,

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Mark and Michelle rang the company when they were on their way to the

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airport, so that they'd be met by the representative

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who would then drive their car away.

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They came, did the damage check around the car, made me sign,

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but I didn't know where they'd parked the car

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or anything like that.

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When we were actually in Greece, I was nervous as to where the car was,

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if it was going to be there when we got back,

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if any damage was going to happen to it.

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And those fears proved well-founded.

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They basically came to us, said, "Look, your car's in one piece,

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"but, I'm sorry, we have damaged it."

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I was like, "What do you mean you've damaged it?"

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All the paint work above the wheel was all scratched,

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the rear fog lamp was all broke.

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It was my first car, I'd only bought it in March.

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I've had to pay for the damage myself.

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It's literally cost me £200.

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I've e-mailed them numerous times after that.

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But nothing's ever been done.

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It's absolutely disgusting.

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The meet-and-greet company that Mark used has been dissolved

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and is no longer trading.

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However, it's not just returning cars damaged that's given

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some meet-and-greet companies a bad name.

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The timekeeping of a number of their drivers can leave a lot to be

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desired, too, as Jimmy Pennington from Lancashire discovered

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when waiting to have his car collected.

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My five-year-old daughter's first holiday.

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It's mine and my wife's first holiday for a good eight, ten years.

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Obviously, with having the five-year-old daughter,

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she was very excited, as we all were. The first family holiday.

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Now, of course, the whole point of a meet-and-greet service

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is to make arriving at the terminal easier.

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But that wasn't what happened.

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You wouldn't believe it, honestly.

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Got to the airport, nobody there.

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Rang them, got told five minutes.

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Waited ten.

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We were stood there worrying and getting extremely angry and upset.

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64 phone calls later, finally they turned up,

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an hour and a half later, five of them getting out of a Micra.

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We had to leg it into the airport to check-in.

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Literally within two minutes of getting through the terminal

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they were calling us to get on the plane.

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And things weren't much better when they flew home in the early hours of

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the morning and had to wait two hours for their car to be returned.

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My wife were in tears.

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Daughter was extremely upset because it was that cold.

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We'd gone from 44 degrees down to about ten degrees.

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Promised on the phone you'll get your money back

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and we'll compensate you.

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Wife's finally got the money back.

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No mention of any compensation or owt.

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It's just absolutely scandalous.

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Delayed collections and drop-offs like this have become common

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at airports across the country, but they're causing particular problems

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here at Manchester's Terminal 1.

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We're approaching the departures area for Manchester Airport.

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It's one of the busiest terminals in the country.

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With the meet-and-greet companies,

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they will tell their customers to wait in the drop-off area, but,

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invariably, they're often 15, 20 minutes late, sometimes an hour,

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sometimes longer.

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Some people have missed their flights waiting for them.

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But what the airport can't allow is for customers to park their cars in

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this drop-off area indefinitely,

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so they have to, in effect, circle round, rejoin the queue.

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Sure enough, Pete soon spots a driver desperately driving

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round and round in order to find the meet-and-greet company

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that he's booked.

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How long have you been waiting, may I ask you?

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Yeah. Been going around about four times.

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-You've been around four times?

-40 minutes. It's stressful.

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Kids are waiting on the side of the road.

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But, there we go.

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Now, of course, even the best meet-and-greet businesses

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may occasionally get stuck in traffic, but while at the airport,

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we also came across a representative of one company who was keen

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to put across an industry perspective.

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If it weren't for companies like us, it would be a lot more chaos

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outside the airport, because there'd be nowhere for them to park.

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There's not enough space. And that's it, that's why we're trying

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to do it. We are late with our customers sometimes.

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We can't help it. We always apologise.

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We compensate if we are very more late.

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There are cowboy companies out there that we can't compete with, but

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they're doing low prices and parking cars on car parks in pubs and things

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like that. That is nothing to do with us.

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We've got secure land, 24-hour operation and,

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apart from a bit of lateness, we're a very successful business.

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But such explanations don't hold much weight with Pete O'Brien.

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It creates that illusion, and that's what it is, an illusion,

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that this is somehow an official...

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It's an approved, airport-approved company.

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They're not. They have no more right...

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In fact, they have no right to conduct business transactions

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on this drop-off area.

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And that's something that the police,

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the airport's own police,

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are looking to start being more rigorous about how we address this.

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Pete and his team are hoping that by working with the

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meet-and-greet companies and issuing warnings

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instead of criminal proceedings,

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they can be encouraged to operate away from the terminal itself.

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But he can see why these services have such appeal.

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Company websites will say - "Our uniformed, professional,

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"courteous chauffeur will pick up your car".

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And that does happen on many occasions.

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There are some reputable companies.

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What you often see is people with very expensive cars,

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sometimes £50-60,000 worth of assets,

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effectively handing a set of keys over to somebody

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who they've never met.

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Their prized possession has just been handed over

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to somebody who they've not even confirmed who they are.

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Back out on patrol and Pete's visiting a spot that he says

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is another one frequently used by meet-and-greet companies.

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If you follow me, just through this gap in the trees,

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you'll see there is what is effectively a farmer's field

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full of 20, 30, 40 parked cars, and probably more.

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They're in an open field, it's certainly not secure,

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no razor wire, obviously not patrolled or floodlit.

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Locations like this explain why some cars supposedly parked

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in a secure environment have been returned by meet-and-greet companies

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covered in mud.

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But it's not just the council cracking down on this.

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Trading Standards is also investigating companies

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that it suspects aren't telling customers the truth

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about where their cars are parked.

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We dropped a car off that had a GPS tracker in the car.

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And that GPS tracker enables us to look where that car actually

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was going to.

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In this case, we could track the car.

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It didn't actually go to a secure car park,

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it was just parked up on a road in the local area

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for the duration of our stay.

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CCTV cameras have also proved that cars parked on residential streets

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are being dropped off and picked up by meet-and-greet drivers.

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So if you're booking an airport meet-and-greet service,

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Pete has tips on how to tell which companies you can trust

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with the keys to your car.

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So the message to customers, A is -

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check who you're booking with.

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Do you know who they are? Can you trust them?

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Do you know exactly where your car's going to be parked?

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Is it secure, or is it open access?

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Is it Park Mark approved?

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And, does your own personal insurance cover you

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for the use of some of these companies?

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You'll find it easy to make those checks if you're flying in or out

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of Gatwick as there's a list of approved meet-and-greet suppliers

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on the airport's website.

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And in Manchester, the council and police are considering

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doing something similar. For now, though,

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they're working with Pete and his team and the airport itself

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to make sure that holiday-makers booking a meet-and-greet service

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get what they paid for, and to stop residents having their

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streets clogged up with cars that simply shouldn't be there.

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Now each year, I'm afraid, millions of pounds are lost to fraudsters

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who've set up websites that look like they're selling

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genuine flights or holidays, but, in fact, they're doing no such thing.

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So could you spot the difference and tell which sites

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are scams and which are actually the real deal?

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Well, I have to tell you, it's not always as easy as you might think.

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Particularly when, as you'll see,

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one of the main things that we're often told to look out for

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can in itself be abused.

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So stand by for some really good pointers on how to make sure that it

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won't be your cash that they get their hands on the next time.

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And look out for names of some businesses that are definitely

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ones to avoid.

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Thanks to its mix of beautiful beaches and adventure,

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the resorts of Western Africa have become increasingly popular

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destinations for Brits, especially in the winter.

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And after recommendations from friends,

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it seemed the ideal choice for Cara Reid and her boyfriend Dan.

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This is quite a big deal for us

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because it was going to be our last holiday before, hopefully,

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trying to move in together.

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But we've had quite a few trialling times over the last couple of years.

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I've spent a lot of time in hospital,

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and we just really both wanted to make something special for us.

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To add to the excitement, as Cara started planning the trip,

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she kept it all a big secret from Dan.

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I was like a little schoolgirl

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because I was actually doing it as a surprise for Dan.

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And it certainly was a surprise, but not in the way that she hoped.

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After searching online, Cara found a website not only offering

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what looked like a decent prices, but that also displayed

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the Atol logo, which she found very reassuring.

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After all, it's usually cited as one of the key things to check for when

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choosing who to travel with as it means you will be protected

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if things go wrong.

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And, as the company name was one that she'd heard of before,

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she felt confident enough to find out more.

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One of the companies that I recognised was

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the Travel Zone company.

0:16:550:16:57

And I thought I'd use that one because I didn't recognise

0:16:570:17:01

any of the others, and I thought I was being safe.

0:17:010:17:04

And I clicked on the Travel Zone website

0:17:040:17:07

and it brought up a box saying -

0:17:070:17:09

please contact one of our customer care team.

0:17:090:17:11

On calling the number, Cara was told she would be contacted

0:17:120:17:15

by one of the team's Africa specialists.

0:17:150:17:18

And, sure enough, within half an hour, a Mr Dave Smith

0:17:180:17:21

called her back and started running through the available deals

0:17:210:17:25

that the company had on offer.

0:17:250:17:27

He seemed to know what best airline to go with

0:17:270:17:30

and he was very reassuring when I was asking him questions

0:17:300:17:33

about the flight, so I had no reason to doubt him in any way.

0:17:330:17:38

He sent me an invoice to break down the flights and everything

0:17:380:17:41

to make sure that I was happy with it.

0:17:410:17:44

He said, "Read through it, read through the legal terms

0:17:440:17:46

"before you're happy to go ahead."

0:17:460:17:48

It was Travel Zone's logos with the Atol protection and everything,

0:17:480:17:53

so I didn't think anything of it.

0:17:530:17:57

Dave Smith offered Cara two return flights to the Gambia

0:17:570:18:01

for £876, plus a £100 deposit to secure their accommodation.

0:18:010:18:07

Now, although not the cheapest deal she'd found,

0:18:070:18:09

the price was still a good one.

0:18:090:18:11

So, following his instructions,

0:18:110:18:13

Cara transferred the money directly into Dave Smith's bank account.

0:18:130:18:16

I just assumed that was the way the company operated,

0:18:180:18:21

that it was just their director's name that the account was in.

0:18:210:18:26

I thought I was getting a good deal,

0:18:260:18:27

but it wasn't ridiculously good to make you think twice about it,

0:18:270:18:31

to think, "No, this is too good to be true."

0:18:310:18:33

As soon as Cara was e-mailed a booking confirmation

0:18:350:18:38

with all the details, she finally revealed her plans to Dan.

0:18:380:18:42

It was amazing, the fact we were going somewhere so exotic

0:18:420:18:45

and extreme, it was fantastic, it was brilliant.

0:18:450:18:48

Something that we both really wanted to do.

0:18:480:18:50

With several months still to go before they were due to fly,

0:18:520:18:56

Cara then decided to really push the boat out and upgrade

0:18:560:18:59

to first class seats on the flight.

0:18:590:19:01

But when she called the airline to see if that was possible,

0:19:010:19:04

she couldn't quite believe what she was told.

0:19:040:19:07

I gave them all the reference numbers and she said,

0:19:080:19:11

"We had a booking for you.

0:19:110:19:13

"Your flights were cancelled, though,

0:19:130:19:14

"shortly after they were booked."

0:19:140:19:16

And I went, "What do you mean they were cancelled?

0:19:160:19:19

"I haven't cancelled them."

0:19:190:19:21

I just absolutely broke down in tears

0:19:210:19:23

and I just knew that something then wasn't right.

0:19:230:19:27

Hoping that there had been just some mistake,

0:19:280:19:31

Cara immediately dialled the number for the travel consultant

0:19:310:19:33

that she'd spoken to, Mr Dave Smith.

0:19:330:19:36

I tried ringing the two different numbers

0:19:360:19:38

and it just wasn't responding at all.

0:19:380:19:42

I was just in a mess.

0:19:420:19:43

When I spoke to Dan, I just didn't know how to break it to him

0:19:430:19:47

because I just felt like I'd failed us both.

0:19:470:19:50

And...

0:19:500:19:51

Yeah, so...

0:19:540:19:55

It's just one of the worst things, you know.

0:19:590:20:01

Well, with radio silence from Dave Smith,

0:20:040:20:06

Cara called the company she thought that she'd booked with.

0:20:060:20:09

And although this time she did manage to get through to someone,

0:20:090:20:12

the bad news, I'm afraid, got worse.

0:20:120:20:15

Dan found another number for Travel Zone, a different one,

0:20:150:20:18

by searching online.

0:20:180:20:20

And that's when I rang that number and had a second bombshell dropped.

0:20:200:20:27

It turned out that the company she was speaking to now, Travel Zone,

0:20:290:20:33

wasn't in fact the one she'd booked her holiday with.

0:20:330:20:36

She'd been duped by a copycat site calling itself Just Travel Zone.

0:20:360:20:41

It had used as many of the details of the real company as it could,

0:20:410:20:45

including its Atol number.

0:20:450:20:47

But it now seemed clear that hoping customers wouldn't notice

0:20:470:20:50

the subtle difference in the two company names,

0:20:500:20:52

Just Travel Zone had set up shop with the sole intention

0:20:520:20:56

of stealing unsuspecting people's money.

0:20:560:20:58

Here's one of my e-mails, confirmation of booking,

0:21:010:21:05

from what I thought was Travel Zone.

0:21:050:21:08

As you can see, there's the Travel Zone logo,

0:21:080:21:11

the Atol protection.

0:21:110:21:13

"Total financial protection, your holiday is safe with us."

0:21:130:21:18

Cara and Dan are particularly upset by the way a genuine Atol number

0:21:180:21:21

had been hijacked by the scammers,

0:21:210:21:24

giving their site an authenticity and seemingly no reason to doubt it.

0:21:240:21:29

Everything seems to be in place,

0:21:290:21:30

so it's not like anything we could have done.

0:21:300:21:33

You think you're dealing with the right people.

0:21:330:21:36

The real Travel Zone told Cara that others had been hoodwinked

0:21:370:21:41

in exactly the same way and advised her to go to the police.

0:21:410:21:45

And although she did that, she's not been able to recover

0:21:450:21:47

any of the £976 she lost.

0:21:470:21:49

Eventually, the letter came through to say that

0:21:510:21:54

because it was a bank transfer,

0:21:540:21:56

it was as good as giving them my money.

0:21:560:21:59

There was nothing more they could do unless I was to pay more money out

0:21:590:22:03

to get solicitors and courts involved, which I haven't got.

0:22:030:22:08

Detective Chief Inspector Andy Fyfe is Head of Crime at

0:22:080:22:12

the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau.

0:22:120:22:14

For him, stories like Cara and Dan's are depressingly familiar.

0:22:140:22:19

The average loss reported to us is around £3,000 or more.

0:22:190:22:23

Throughout 2015 we had some 4,200 reports made to us of this nature.

0:22:230:22:29

For the first eight months of 2016,

0:22:290:22:32

we've had already 7,000 reports made to us,

0:22:320:22:35

so the problem just appears to be growing and growing.

0:22:350:22:38

DCI Fyfe says that the bogus website that fooled Cara

0:22:390:22:42

operated in much the same way as one which he and his team succeeded in

0:22:420:22:46

removing from the web last year called Dreams Travel.

0:22:460:22:50

When you look into behind the initial screen,

0:22:510:22:55

which itself appears quite nice,

0:22:550:22:57

then you start to recognise some of the key things to look out for.

0:22:570:23:00

The phone number listed just went to a dead phone number line,

0:23:000:23:05

and the address that these people claim to operate from,

0:23:050:23:08

it turns out they didn't have office premises there whatsoever.

0:23:080:23:12

When we were able to identify who had set up the website

0:23:120:23:15

and the details they had used,

0:23:150:23:17

we were able to demonstrate that they were fake details,

0:23:170:23:21

so those factors, we were able to use to...

0:23:210:23:26

get cooperation from the domain registrar

0:23:260:23:28

to have this website suspended.

0:23:280:23:31

But if you only remember one thing that should set your alarm bells

0:23:310:23:34

ringing, it's advice that we've flagged up before -

0:23:340:23:37

always avoid paying by bank transfer,

0:23:370:23:39

unless it's to somebody you know.

0:23:390:23:42

You, as a customer, are at risk of simply losing your money,

0:23:420:23:45

paying into a bank account from which your money can be diverted

0:23:450:23:49

very, very quickly,

0:23:490:23:50

and you have very little chance of recovering your money.

0:23:500:23:53

Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Authority has taken the unusual step

0:23:550:24:00

of publishing a list of seven bogus online holiday companies

0:24:000:24:04

that it says you shouldn't use.

0:24:040:24:06

The list includes Just Travel Zone,

0:24:060:24:08

but it seems all these businesses have taken money for

0:24:080:24:11

flights or holidays that they haven't delivered.

0:24:110:24:14

So the message from DCI Fyfe is to keep your wits about you when next

0:24:140:24:18

booking a holiday online.

0:24:180:24:20

And if you spot a company you've been dealing with on this list,

0:24:200:24:23

then get in touch with the CAA or Atol direct,

0:24:230:24:26

before going any further,

0:24:260:24:28

and certainly before handing over any of your money.

0:24:280:24:31

Well, we tried getting in touch with Just Travel Zone, of course,

0:24:330:24:36

but I'm afraid we didn't get a response,

0:24:360:24:38

although it does appear the website is still taking bookings under

0:24:380:24:41

a different name.

0:24:410:24:43

Meanwhile, the real, legitimate Travel Zone,

0:24:430:24:46

a long-established business, has reiterated two key pieces of advice.

0:24:460:24:51

Firstly, that you should think twice about using any company that's

0:24:510:24:55

unable to make a card payment.

0:24:550:24:57

And secondly, reminding us all that too often

0:24:570:25:00

an especially good deal can turn out to be too good to be true.

0:25:000:25:05

The Civil Aviation Authority underlined that last point, too,

0:25:050:25:08

while going on to say that cracking down on websites that falsely claim

0:25:080:25:12

to hold an Atol licence is a very difficult challenge,

0:25:120:25:16

with many of the sites operated from overseas.

0:25:160:25:19

It recommends customers check a company really is Atol-protected,

0:25:190:25:23

in which case an Atol certificate should be issued as soon as you've

0:25:230:25:26

paid up any money.

0:25:260:25:28

As for Dan and Cara,

0:25:290:25:31

I'm afraid all they can do now is start saving for their next holiday,

0:25:310:25:34

and when they come to book it,

0:25:340:25:36

they will certainly do things very differently.

0:25:360:25:39

I think that's one of the biggest lessons

0:25:390:25:41

I've learnt from all of this,

0:25:410:25:42

is definitely to question where your money's going to

0:25:420:25:46

and whom it's going to.

0:25:460:25:47

If you're dealing with a company and they are asking you to do

0:25:470:25:50

a bank transfer, definitely really think about who you're

0:25:500:25:53

parting your money with, and look into it further

0:25:530:25:56

before you let it go.

0:25:560:25:57

Still to come on Rip Off Britain,

0:26:030:26:05

I join a viewer trying to track down the villa

0:26:050:26:08

he's booked and paid for in Tenerife.

0:26:080:26:10

Will we find it, or has he been scammed?

0:26:100:26:13

-I've not heard of...

-Not heard of that villa?

0:26:130:26:15

No, or that company.

0:26:150:26:17

And how long have you been here?

0:26:170:26:18

I've been here now about 20 years.

0:26:180:26:19

-Oh, goodness, well, you really would know, wouldn't you?

-Yes.

0:26:190:26:22

-Yeah, yeah.

-Yeah.

0:26:220:26:23

Travel expert Simon Calder has all the secrets to save you money

0:26:270:26:31

on your travels, along with tips on everything

0:26:310:26:33

from how to avoid the crowds to the best way to steer clear of

0:26:330:26:37

those tourist traps.

0:26:370:26:38

This time, some tips on driving abroad.

0:26:390:26:42

I don't have a car at home in Britain,

0:26:450:26:48

but abroad, I'll often rent one.

0:26:480:26:50

But I always do my homework.

0:26:500:26:52

Now, most of us might check rental rates through

0:26:530:26:55

a price comparison website, and Simon does, too,

0:26:550:26:58

but after hearing too many stories about scams on everything from

0:26:580:27:02

fuel charges to insurance,

0:27:020:27:03

he doesn't then just simply click through to book.

0:27:030:27:07

Quaintly, I then phone a couple of well-known firms

0:27:070:27:11

to get the best deal and establish certainty of the fuel policy,

0:27:110:27:16

insurance and the cost of a second driver.

0:27:160:27:18

Another way Simon sometimes gets a better deal is by not booking a car

0:27:220:27:26

until he's actually on his holiday.

0:27:260:27:28

Often, I won't rent a car from the airport -

0:27:290:27:32

instead, I'll take public transport or a cab downtown

0:27:320:27:35

and pick up a car at the city centre office.

0:27:350:27:38

That way, you avoid any airport surcharge.

0:27:380:27:41

Also, after a long transatlantic flight,

0:27:410:27:44

it's best to have the benefit of a good night's sleep

0:27:440:27:47

before you take to the wheel.

0:27:470:27:49

So, you're a good driver, you stick to the speed limit,

0:27:530:27:56

you observe all the rules on parking,

0:27:560:27:59

so, when you're driving abroad, what could possibly go wrong?

0:27:590:28:03

Well, in some countries,

0:28:030:28:05

drinking even the smallest amount of alcohol can very easily get you on

0:28:050:28:09

the wrong side of the law if you're planning to get behind the wheel.

0:28:090:28:13

Alcohol and driving don't mix, of course.

0:28:130:28:16

By international standards, the UK is actually fairly lenient.

0:28:160:28:20

In many countries, a pint of beer is enough to tip you over the limit.

0:28:200:28:24

In Hungary, the blood alcohol limit is a big fat zero,

0:28:240:28:28

so, if you've had a few drinks the night before,

0:28:280:28:31

don't start driving at breakfast time.

0:28:310:28:33

In Germany, anyone who's been driving for less than two years

0:28:330:28:36

must also be alcohol-free.

0:28:360:28:39

Elsewhere, even one drink could get you into bother

0:28:390:28:42

and the fine could be more than you think.

0:28:420:28:44

In Denmark, a motorist caught with a blood alcohol content above 0.05

0:28:440:28:49

faces a fine in proportion to their salary and the amount they've drunk.

0:28:490:28:54

Now, more often than not, when things go wrong on holiday,

0:28:580:29:01

it's a reputable company that's slipped up,

0:29:010:29:03

but, as we know only too well on this programme,

0:29:030:29:06

sometimes the whole thing has been an out-and-out scam from the start,

0:29:060:29:10

and I'm sorry to say that every year,

0:29:100:29:12

holiday-makers are being left out of pocket to the tunes of

0:29:120:29:15

millions of pounds,

0:29:150:29:16

thanks to fraudsters coming up with new ways to

0:29:160:29:18

trick them out of their cash.

0:29:180:29:20

When we heard about this next case,

0:29:200:29:22

what particularly stood out was the way it seemed to fly in the face of

0:29:220:29:26

the advice we always give about paying for things -

0:29:260:29:29

use your credit card -

0:29:290:29:30

because, in this case,

0:29:300:29:32

that didn't turn out to be the safety net you might expect.

0:29:320:29:35

So, listen out for some advice to make sure you don't fall for

0:29:350:29:38

the same scam.

0:29:380:29:40

Guaranteed sunshine all year round,

0:29:410:29:44

sandy beaches and just a short flight away,

0:29:440:29:47

Tenerife is a firm favourite with the British.

0:29:470:29:50

More of us visit the islands than any other nationality.

0:29:500:29:53

And, of course, it's where we've come to capture some sunshine while

0:29:530:29:56

filming this latest series.

0:29:560:29:58

Dean Goldsmith from Birmingham is one of many holiday-makers

0:30:000:30:03

who return to the island again and again.

0:30:030:30:06

We've been six or seven times before.

0:30:060:30:08

We enjoyed, like, the late sunshine of the evening, erm,

0:30:080:30:12

the warmth, and the food's good.

0:30:120:30:14

So good in fact that, a year ago,

0:30:140:30:16

Dean and his wife started planning another visit,

0:30:160:30:19

this time hiring a villa with friends.

0:30:190:30:21

With the six of us travelling together,

0:30:210:30:23

we thought it would be nice with a nice outside terrace

0:30:230:30:25

and private pool.

0:30:250:30:26

Taking the lead, Dean spent some time searching online

0:30:260:30:29

for the perfect villa in the perfect spot,

0:30:290:30:32

and he thought he'd found exactly that on a website called

0:30:320:30:35

sunnycanaryislands.com.

0:30:350:30:37

I was looking for a villa in Costa Adeje,

0:30:370:30:40

and on the home page, this one...this one came up.

0:30:400:30:43

So I clicked on, had a look, erm...

0:30:430:30:45

The photos were amazing.

0:30:450:30:48

The four-bedroom villa was everything they were looking for,

0:30:480:30:50

so Dean was keen to snap up the deal of 1,600 euros

0:30:500:30:54

for an eight-night stay,

0:30:540:30:56

but before going ahead with the booking,

0:30:560:30:58

Dean e-mailed Sunny Canary to make sure the villa was

0:30:580:31:01

in a really good location.

0:31:010:31:03

I asked him the location of the villa

0:31:040:31:06

and he e-mailed me back and sent me a link on a map,

0:31:060:31:10

with a pin pinpointing exactly where the villa was,

0:31:100:31:13

which was close to the water park and suited us.

0:31:130:31:17

What's more, the company also offered Dean a discount, 10% off,

0:31:170:31:21

if he paid the whole amount upfront,

0:31:210:31:23

meaning the price came down to 1,440 euros.

0:31:230:31:27

Sunny Canary would also throw in free airport transfers,

0:31:270:31:30

so, once the fee for cleaning and a security deposit were added on,

0:31:300:31:34

the total to pay was 1,680 euros.

0:31:340:31:37

We thought we'd got a really good deal -

0:31:410:31:42

you know, with the 10% added on as well,

0:31:420:31:44

it just put everything into place, really.

0:31:440:31:47

It was the perfect location, erm, and everything was good.

0:31:470:31:52

There were several options for making the payment

0:31:520:31:54

and Dean went for the one he knew would be safest,

0:31:540:31:57

using his credit card.

0:31:570:31:59

I opted for a credit card payment, erm,

0:31:590:32:01

due to the fact that I know you get a bit of a guarantee with that.

0:32:010:32:06

I wasn't sure about PayPal,

0:32:060:32:08

but I know you get insurance and stuff with your credit card.

0:32:080:32:12

Booking complete,

0:32:130:32:14

Dean e-mailed the company for an exact address so he could show

0:32:140:32:17

the others where the villa was located,

0:32:170:32:20

but there was no response.

0:32:200:32:22

After about a week of not hearing anything back

0:32:220:32:24

off Sunny Canary Island, I decided to go on the website.

0:32:240:32:27

It then came up with a message saying,

0:32:270:32:29

"This website no longer exists,"

0:32:290:32:31

which made us feel quite anxious.

0:32:310:32:34

And things only got worse when he did a further search online.

0:32:350:32:39

The reviews were stating people were turning up at the airport,

0:32:390:32:43

and no transfer was there.

0:32:430:32:45

They were getting taxis from the airport to the supposed place

0:32:450:32:48

where the villas were, and the villas weren't there.

0:32:480:32:52

If it was happening to other people, then the truth behind it is

0:32:520:32:55

it's likely to be happening to us as well.

0:32:550:32:57

So, at that stage, it made us feel very concerned and...

0:32:570:33:02

we thought we could be in a bit of trouble here.

0:33:020:33:05

Dean contacted his credit card company MBNA

0:33:050:33:08

to say he suspected he'd been a victim of fraud,

0:33:080:33:11

and to see if there was any way he could get his money back,

0:33:110:33:15

but the company's response wasn't quite what he'd hoped for.

0:33:150:33:18

The credit card company initially said to me

0:33:180:33:20

that there's nothing they can do until I actually go to Tenerife

0:33:200:33:24

and the villa isn't there and the transfer isn't there.

0:33:240:33:28

Despite the reviews suggesting Sunny Canary wasn't all it appeared to be,

0:33:280:33:32

Dean would effectively have to prove to the credit card company

0:33:320:33:36

that there was no villa,

0:33:360:33:37

and that no-one had come to pick him up as arranged,

0:33:370:33:40

which of course meant he'd have to go to Tenerife knowing he was

0:33:400:33:43

unlikely to get what he'd paid for.

0:33:430:33:44

I don't think it's fair the credit card company make you travel,

0:33:470:33:49

that I have to go out there to prove that this is fraudulent.

0:33:490:33:52

A pint of lager and a pint of mild, please.

0:33:530:33:55

Three weeks before they were due to take off,

0:33:550:33:57

we caught up with Dean and his friend Richard,

0:33:570:34:00

and they had a difficult decision to make.

0:34:000:34:02

I thought by paying by credit card, we'd be safe.

0:34:020:34:05

It seems a bit ridiculous, really, doesn't it?

0:34:050:34:07

-Got to go out there to prove that the accommodation's not there.

-Yeah.

0:34:070:34:11

So we're stuck between a rock and a hard place, really.

0:34:110:34:14

Erm...

0:34:140:34:15

If we don't fly out there,

0:34:150:34:17

then we can't prove to the credit card company that it's fraudulent,

0:34:170:34:19

and we also lose our flight money.

0:34:190:34:21

If we do fly out there,

0:34:210:34:22

then obviously we've got the extra expense of

0:34:220:34:24

booking alternative accommodation.

0:34:240:34:25

Something they lose-lose situation,

0:34:250:34:28

and while you can see both sides on this one,

0:34:280:34:30

personal finance expert Sarah Pennells tends to sympathise with

0:34:300:34:34

Dean's frustration.

0:34:340:34:36

I can see the point that the credit card company is trying to make,

0:34:360:34:39

which is they will pay out if there's been breach of contract,

0:34:390:34:42

and, I guess, until you find that you haven't got a holiday,

0:34:420:34:45

the contract hasn't been breached, technically.

0:34:450:34:48

But I do think it's a bit of a box-ticking exercise,

0:34:480:34:51

because it seems to me there's an awful lot of information that shows

0:34:510:34:55

that this villa booking hasn't been made, and that, therefore,

0:34:550:34:59

Dean and the others haven't got the holidays they were expecting.

0:34:590:35:02

Well, in the end,

0:35:040:35:05

Dean and his friends decided they would fly to Tenerife,

0:35:050:35:08

but, with no confidence that the villa they booked would be waiting

0:35:080:35:11

for them, they paid for alternative accommodation, just in case,

0:35:110:35:15

and if, as they suspected, the villa didn't exist,

0:35:150:35:18

Dean would finally be able to prove to his credit card company that

0:35:180:35:21

he really had been ripped off.

0:35:210:35:23

Now, by a stroke of luck,

0:35:240:35:26

the dates he was going to Tenerife coincided with when we were there

0:35:260:35:29

filming, so I was able to meet him as he set off to search for

0:35:290:35:33

the elusive villa,

0:35:330:35:34

with only the name and the street it's supposedly on to help him.

0:35:340:35:37

'Would it exist after all, and, if not,

0:35:370:35:40

'would he get the proof he needed to get his money back?'

0:35:400:35:43

-Hi, Dean.

-Hi, Julia.

0:35:440:35:46

-Lovely to see you.

-Nice to meet you.

0:35:460:35:48

Now, the first piece of luck is that we have come to the right road,

0:35:480:35:51

-I think, because if you look up there, Avenida Europa.

-Oh, yeah.

0:35:510:35:55

-Yes, that's correct.

-That's all right, isn't it?

0:35:550:35:57

-You've got the details, I believe, on you, have you?

-I have, yeah.

0:35:570:35:59

"Villa Eugenio, Avenue Europa, Tenerife, Canary Islands."

0:35:590:36:03

OK, so we know we're in the right street.

0:36:030:36:06

-It looks like it's quite a long one...

-Mm-hmm.

0:36:060:36:08

-..so I suggest we go in our car together...

-OK.

0:36:080:36:12

..and you can look out one way, I'll look out the other way

0:36:120:36:14

and we'll see what we can see.

0:36:140:36:15

Sounds good.

0:36:150:36:16

'So, time to go on a villa hunt.'

0:36:200:36:22

Let's keep our eyes peeled for the magic word, Eugenio.

0:36:240:36:28

Ah, look. "San Eugenio Alto. Ocean View."

0:36:280:36:34

Shall we stop and have a look?

0:36:340:36:35

-Yeah. Why not?

-Shall we?

0:36:350:36:36

'It's similar enough to the name we're looking for to

0:36:360:36:39

'make us think that we might at least be on the right track.'

0:36:390:36:42

-Oh, hello.

-Hi.

0:36:420:36:43

This gentleman here is looking for a villa that he booked online.

0:36:430:36:48

Villa Eugenio.

0:36:480:36:50

-All right.

-And what is this?

0:36:500:36:52

This is Ocean View.

0:36:520:36:53

But it's got the name Eugenio in it, hasn't it?

0:36:530:36:56

-This is the area, San Eugenio.

-Ah, OK.

0:36:560:36:59

-Ah...

-That's the area.

-Yes.

0:36:590:37:02

'So, the good news is the address given has a basis in reality,

0:37:020:37:05

'with an area and a street name that really do exist,

0:37:050:37:08

'but of the actual villa itself, as yet there's no sign at all.

0:37:080:37:13

'And then, once again, we spot the magic word.'

0:37:130:37:17

-Do you see it says "Oasis San Eugenio" there?

-Oh, yeah.

0:37:170:37:20

Shall we pop in there and see if they've ever heard of

0:37:200:37:22

-this place that we think doesn't exist?

-Yeah, why not? Yes.

0:37:220:37:26

Sorry to interrupt your day.

0:37:260:37:29

I booked a villa not long ago.

0:37:290:37:30

Right.

0:37:300:37:31

I've, sort of, being given the address as Villa Eugenio.

0:37:310:37:34

-No, I've not heard of...

-Not heard that villa?

0:37:340:37:36

No, or that company.

0:37:360:37:38

And how long have you been here?

0:37:380:37:39

I've been here now about 20 years.

0:37:390:37:40

-Oh, goodness, well, you really would know, wouldn't you?

-Yes, yeah.

0:37:400:37:43

-There's no address, there's no actual...

-Not as such, is there?

0:37:430:37:46

No number.

0:37:460:37:47

-Because you wouldn't have just the name.

-There'd be a number.

-Yes.

0:37:470:37:50

It'd have to be a number as well.

0:37:500:37:52

You'd have to have an address number with it.

0:37:520:37:54

Another clue, I think.

0:37:540:37:55

-OK?

-I think we might take advantage of your place...

0:37:550:37:57

Not a problem, you're more than welcome.

0:37:570:37:59

-Super.

-It sounds like you need a pint.

-Yeah.

0:37:590:38:00

Come with me, I'll get you a pint on the house.

0:38:000:38:02

-That sounds good.

-How's that, eh?

0:38:020:38:04

Well, by now, we'd been up and down the whole street,

0:38:040:38:07

and it's clear that the villa is nowhere to be found.

0:38:070:38:10

While we've reported many times on similar scams,

0:38:100:38:13

where booked and paid for accommodation doesn't exist,

0:38:130:38:16

usually the payments have been made by bank transfer,

0:38:160:38:19

rather than, as at this time, by credit card.

0:38:190:38:22

But, of course, the fact it offered a legitimate method of paying

0:38:220:38:25

is what gave the site its credibility.

0:38:250:38:28

It's certainly possible to find people who were very unhappy with

0:38:290:38:33

this company and call the whole thing a scam,

0:38:330:38:35

but they were able to pay by credit card,

0:38:350:38:38

and so, therefore, many, if not all of them,

0:38:380:38:40

would have got their money back from their card company.

0:38:400:38:43

Now that could be part of the sophistication of this scam.

0:38:430:38:46

'So, though he's had to come a long way to get it,

0:38:460:38:50

'Dean does at last have the proof he hopes will be enough

0:38:500:38:53

'to get his money back, so he gives the credit card company a call.'

0:38:530:38:56

Yeah, what it is, it's a follow-up call regarding, erm,

0:38:570:39:02

a disputed transaction from March.

0:39:020:39:05

That's the one, yes, sunnycanaryislands.com, yeah.

0:39:050:39:07

I've tried to ring the number that's actually on the booking form

0:39:070:39:11

and it just rings out.

0:39:110:39:12

There was no airport pick-up,

0:39:120:39:14

which was what he promised with the booking, as well, so...

0:39:140:39:16

I'm actually here at the moment, and we've walked up and down

0:39:160:39:18

the street where the Villa Eugenio was supposed to be.

0:39:180:39:21

There's absolutely nothing there at all. No, no.

0:39:210:39:24

It is, yeah. Will do.

0:39:240:39:25

Thank you.

0:39:250:39:27

Cheers, then. Bye-bye. Bye.

0:39:270:39:29

-And?

-They want to just clarify that I've travelled to Tenerife

0:39:290:39:33

and that the rip-off has occurred,

0:39:330:39:36

and they've put a date of the 21st of November as the refund.

0:39:360:39:40

-So, all's good.

-Hurray.

0:39:400:39:42

-So, how are you feeling now?

-I'm feeling elated.

0:39:420:39:45

Good.

0:39:450:39:46

Well, you won't be at all surprised to hear that when we tried to

0:39:460:39:49

contact the rental company sunnycanaryislands.com,

0:39:490:39:52

we heard absolutely nothing back.

0:39:520:39:54

But we also got in touch with Dean's credit card company, MBNA,

0:39:550:39:59

to see why he had to go to such lengths to prove he'd been

0:39:590:40:02

a victim of fraud, whether there were already so many others who

0:40:020:40:05

appeared to have been let down.

0:40:050:40:07

MBNA told us that it always supports customers in getting their

0:40:070:40:11

money back whenever a supplier has not delivered a service as promised,

0:40:110:40:15

but it reiterated that a refund can only be offered once the date

0:40:150:40:20

the service was due to be provided has passed, and, in this case,

0:40:200:40:23

that had to be the start of the holiday.

0:40:230:40:25

But it confirmed...

0:40:250:40:28

'But is there anything Dean could have done differently?

0:40:340:40:37

'And how can the rest of us avoid falling for a similar scam?'

0:40:370:40:40

I don't think there's any fail-safe way that will mean that nobody

0:40:410:40:45

ever falls for a holiday booking scam in the future,

0:40:450:40:48

but there are a couple of things that would have been

0:40:480:40:50

red flags to me.

0:40:500:40:52

One, definitely, was the price.

0:40:520:40:53

I think, in all cases, the villa price was very good value,

0:40:530:40:57

to put it mildly,

0:40:570:40:59

and I think that, combined with a website that

0:40:590:41:02

wasn't a household name, would have rung some alarm bells for me.

0:41:020:41:06

But as well as being wary of a price that might be just too good to

0:41:080:41:11

be true, or companies with unfamiliar names,

0:41:110:41:14

you might also consider booking a full package from a tour operator

0:41:140:41:18

with an Atol or Abta licence,

0:41:180:41:19

meaning added protection if things go wrong.

0:41:190:41:22

Or, if you're booking direct with the owners,

0:41:220:41:25

it's a good idea to speak directly with them over the phone,

0:41:250:41:28

and grill them about the property to help gauge how legitimate they are.

0:41:280:41:32

Plus, ask them for their own contact details

0:41:320:41:35

before you sign the rental contract.

0:41:350:41:37

Well, Dean's obviously delighted to get his money back,

0:41:410:41:44

but he's still ended up out of pocket

0:41:440:41:46

after paying for extra accommodation,

0:41:460:41:48

and the whole saga has shaken his confidence in

0:41:480:41:50

booking a villa online in future.

0:41:500:41:53

It's left me feeling quite vulnerable.

0:41:530:41:54

I like to think of myself as experienced in

0:41:540:41:56

booking accommodation abroad, which I've done for many years,

0:41:560:42:00

but I was quite easily drawn in.

0:42:000:42:02

Cheers.

0:42:020:42:03

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

0:42:090:42:11

you can join in the conversation on our Facebook page -

0:42:110:42:14

just look for BBC Rip Off Britain -

0:42:140:42:16

or you can log onto our website, bbc.co.uk/ripoffbritain.

0:42:160:42:21

If you'd like to send us an e-mail, then our address is...

0:42:210:42:27

Or if you want to send us a letter, then our new address is...

0:42:270:42:31

You know, we've been doing this series for

0:42:420:42:44

-several years now, haven't we?

-Yes.

0:42:440:42:45

And I have to say, it never ceases to amaze any of us

0:42:450:42:49

just how far those scammers are prepared to go,

0:42:490:42:52

and indeed what lies they'll tell in order to get their

0:42:520:42:55

hands on your cash.

0:42:550:42:57

It really is extraordinary.

0:42:570:42:59

And the other thing is how clever they've become.

0:42:590:43:02

But, you know, hopefully we've given you some useful pointers,

0:43:020:43:05

so that it's not your money they end up snaffling next.

0:43:050:43:08

In particular, do make sure that you know as much as you can

0:43:080:43:12

about who you're attempting to do business with.

0:43:120:43:14

So, watch out for all those dodgy websites that

0:43:140:43:17

the Civil Aviation Authority's warning us about.

0:43:170:43:20

Absolutely. Don't just be tempted by whoever's offering

0:43:200:43:23

the cheapest fare, particularly if it's a name you've never heard of.

0:43:230:43:26

Double-check to see if they're above board.

0:43:260:43:29

But that's where we've got to leave it for now.

0:43:290:43:31

We'll see you again for a look at more of your stories very soon,

0:43:310:43:34

but, for now, thanks for watching, and from all of us here...

0:43:340:43:37

-Bye-bye.

-Goodbye.

-Goodbye.

0:43:370:43:39

Gloria Hunniford, Angela Rippon and Julia Somerville investigate the airport meet-and-greet companies that promise safe and secure parking but instead leave cars in fields or by the side of the road.

Plus bogus travel businesses out to steal cash are revealed, and Simon Calder has tips and advice to steer clear of trouble when driving abroad.

One man desperately searches to see if a holiday villa really exists as only if he can prove it is a scam will his credit card company give him his money back.


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