The growth of the internet over the past few decades has led to increased efficiencies for the travel sector and for consumers.

Now it is no longer necessary to visit a High Street travel agent to book a trip and all elements can be arranged from the comfort of your sofa. Images of dream holidays are available at the click of a button and money can be transferred simply and quickly online. However, alongside these new innovations, has emerged a rise in scams and unscrupulous behaviour from criminals who take advantage of those who trust the people they are dealing with online.
 
A study earlier this year from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau found that around 1,000 holiday scams were uncovered in Britain in 2012, costing holidaymakers more than £1.5million. These included victims who were left thousands of pounds out of pocket, and many left stranded with no accommodation after replying to fake holiday home ads or using bogus websites. With headlines like this grabbing the attention of British consumers, what can legitimate businesses do to reassure customers that they are safe to use? Indeed, a study from Research Now from May 2013 found that consumers are far more cautious when they are online compared to how they behave offline, with 85% more likely to trust a brand if they are in a shop or ‘offline’ than online.

This culture of distrust and suspicion among consumers could be hugely damaging for online travel providers. How can they ensure their customers feel secure and safe when booking accommodation online, and in particular, that their suppliers are legitimate and trustworthy? According to Google 80% of travel products in the UK are researched or purchased online, the highest figures for any country in the world, but with so many negative stories in the press, online holiday sites could be at risk of losing customers to fear.
 
Prior to launching advertSAFE in 2012 I was involved in the holiday lettings market which was when I first understood the scale of the impact of online fraud on the travel sector. Many customers I dealt with shared horror stories of their experiences of booking holiday accommodation online and expressed surprise when a rented property matched its description. This planted the seed of an idea for a company that helped to protect both consumers, and legitimate businesses.
 
In an age of collaborative consumption identity verification will become crucial to businesses. No-one could have imagined 20 years ago how significant the internet would become, and, with online shoppers spending an average of £113 monthly shopping online in the UK according to www.broadbandchoices.co.uk, it is astonishing that there is still no enforced system to prove that people interacting, selling and buying online are who they say they are.

Despite government efforts to introduce legislation, the internet is extremely difficult to police, and therefore the onus is on consumers and businesses to take action. This is why we have created a user-friendly system of online verification and since its launch the number of members, including general consumers and partner sites such as GiteWorld.com and RentinSpain.co.uk have grown month on month.
 
The internet has opened up a world of opportunities for interacting and exchanging assets online and the travel industry in particular has seen rapid online growth and a move away from traditional High Street travel agents. Individuals who own property can engage in the holiday rental business, and consumers who want to secure a great deal for holiday accommodation can easily research online to get the best price for their dream holiday.

Unfortunately, some unscrupulous individuals have exploited this trend, cheating trusting consumers out of money. The extent of this criminal activity can vary from misleading consumers as to the quality or location of their accommodation, and at the other end of the spectrum stealing money in return for a non-existent holiday rental property. This minority of individuals could have an extremely negative impact on the reputation of online holiday accommodation sites, scaring customers away from bona fide legitimate providers. The activity of a few crooks is without doubt causing consumers to think again before booking.

This is a real threat to businesses and could lead to a significant decrease in advertising revenue for their sites but I would urge anyone that the answer is simple and available in real-time.
 
We see verification technology as the social glue for building trust between strangers. In this way businesses can ensure that the digital identity of their advertisers and users reflects their true identity, using tried and tested techniques from trusted experts and our partners such as Barclaycard and GB Group. These efforts not only deter scammers but reassures legitimate advertisers and users that the site is a safe, trustworthy environment for interaction. As such, I would recommend that all sites with advertisers to recognise the importance of safety online by employing a trustworthy verification site seal and encouraging users and advertisers to get verified before going ahead and making that click.
 
For more information visit www.advertsafe.com
 

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