Travel agents and tourists beware of fraud risks

By Janice Roberts
Mazars warns on fraud in the travel industry

Christo Snyman, National Director: Forensic Services at Mazars

The number of international tourists arriving in South Africa has surged by 18,7% in the last quarter of the 2015/16 financial year, compared to the previous year, according to the Department of Tourism’s annual report.

Domestic tourism numbers are also on the rise with this number likely to grow substantially over the next two years, according to the report. Unfortunately, the rise in tourism has also led to a substantial increase in the instances of fraud in this sector, says Christo Snyman, National Director: Forensic Services at Mazars.

Snyman notes that the travel industry is particularly vulnerable to various types of fraud. “I receive at least one phone call a week from agents or companies that have become victim to fraud.”

Cybercrime is one risk that has increased sharply for agents and individual tourists alike.

“We recently dealt with a case where a travel agent fell victim to a syndicate while booking accommodation for a group of tourists to the DRC.

“The agent confirmed the group’s booking with the hotel but before she could make payment, she received a second email from the hotel’s email address which stated that their banking details had changed. The agent proceeded to make payment to the new bank account provided in the email. In reality however, the second email had been sent by a fraud syndicate utilising a website that facilitates the falsification of an email address,” Snyman explains.

In the meantime, the actual hotel wouldn’t let the tourists leave the hotel until they had paid for the accommodation.

“This scenario luckily had a happy ending for the agent as we were able to intercept and recover the funds with the help of international law enforcement with whom our division has built up relationships over the years. “

However, agents risk potentially being held liable for the amount that has been defrauded, as well as other damages that their clients may have suffered as a result.

“Naturally individuals who book their own travel also need to take note. Syndicates are definitely increasing their activities online and tourists could potentially find themselves stranded in a foreign country,” he adds.

Mazars Forensic Services helps manage risk by accurately and expediently unraveling financial mysteries. “We use cutting edge methodologies to identify and prevent businesses from becoming a victim of fraud, corruption or any form of white collar crime.”

Whether the threat of fraud comes from a faceless syndicate or within the company, Snyman says that potential victims can protect themselves. He has the following tips:

  • Pick up the phone. If your supplier or hotel says that they’ve had a change in banking details, confirm telephonically that this is the case.
  • Conduct regular malware sweeps to ensure there is no spyware on your computer.
  • Change your username and password on a regular basis.
  • Never just hit reply. Fake e-mail addresses are designed to redirect all correspondence to the fake address only, by retyping the supplier’s original address, you will begin corresponding with the original supplier again.
  • Be wary of suppliers with yahoo or gmail accounts as they are more vulnerable to fraud.
  • Check the spelling of e-mail addresses carefully – sometimes fraudsters simply change a letter in the fake address and rely on the victim not noticing.
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