Fraudsters are targeting a website set up to refund Thomas Cook customers.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) says its site has repeatedly been attacked by cyber-criminals since it went live on Monday.
Crooks are also trying to trick victims into giving personal details.
Last month’s collapse of Thomas Cook led to the UK’s biggest repatriation effort since World War II, with 150,000 Britons affected.
Stranded: Last month’s collapse of Thomas Cook led to the UK’s biggest repatriation effort since World War II, with 150,000 Britons affected
The CAA must now refund 360,000 bookings for trips that were to be taken by 800,000 people.
Around 100,000 applications have so far been made on the website. Sources close to the regulator estimate that up to 15 per cent of these are suspicious.
The volume of low-level claims has sparked concerns, as they often indicate fraud. High-value claims have raised red flags, too.
And criminals are posing as claims management firms to get customers’ details before using them to submit their own applications.
The CAA is now taking ‘urgent action’ to secure the site and has informed police.
CAA chief executive Richard Moriarty says: ‘It is disgusting and disgraceful that unscrupulous criminals are attempting to profit from people who are already experiencing high levels of anxiety and distress.
‘We will not accept this and my team is working around the clock to safeguard our system and process the claims that have already been made.’
Patrick Martin, head of threat intelligence at Skurio, a security firm that worked with Thomas Cook, says it is likely that fraudsters have worked out the threshold at which claims are no longer checked and bombarded the website.
Widow Mary Green, 79, was targeted by a criminal claiming to be a Thomas Cook representative. She had booked a Spanish holiday with a relative for £1,200 and had been due to fly out in February.
The man, with a Liverpool accent, called the pensioner days after the firm went bust. When she said she did not have her booking reference to hand, he told her she could just give him her bank details instead.
It was at this point Mary realised she was being scammed.
Her son, Davie, 48, who had been visiting his mother in Fife at the time, says: ‘My mother told him that if he was a legitimate Thomas Cook employee, he would know where she was travelling to, and, as she had booked online, they would have her bank details.’
Rachel Hainsworth, 48, from Leeds, was targeted by fraudsters a day after Thomas Cook went bust on September 23.
The mother of two says the caller, who had an English accent, claimed that he could authorise a refund if she handed over her bank details.
But the sales representative hadn’t booked a Thomas Cook holiday, so knew it was a scam and hung up. She adds: ‘There are too many vulnerable people who will fall for this.’
Criminals are posing as claims management firms to get customers’ details before using them to submit their own applications
Martyn James, of complaints website Resolver, says: ‘This is outrageous, given that people have already lost out big time after the Thomas Cook collapse.
‘The despicable actions of these fraudsters are unforgivable and this only serves to highlight how cautious we all need to be now.’
It follows warnings this week that at least 50 fake websites have been created to trick holidaymakers into handing over their details.
Scammers have rushed to buy web domains that look like they are connected to Thomas Cook. One, entitled Thomas Cook Refunds, uses the firm’s logo and asks customers for their name, email address, booking number and booking value.
Adam French, a consumer rights expert at Which?, says: ‘Ruthless scammers will try to exploit a crisis like the collapse of Thomas Cook in any way they can, so it is good to see the CAA taking swift action.
‘We have also found evidence of fake refund websites attempting to fleece customers, so we would urge people to use only the dedicated refund website.’
The CAA was forced to apologise on Monday after its systems struggled to cope with ‘unprecedented demand’ in the hours after its launch.
Many spent time filling out an online form, only to get an error message. It will take up to 60 days for people to get their money back, the CAA says.
Customers who paid by direct debit should get their money back by October 14.
The official site allows people with Atol-protected bookings for Thomas Cook holidays due to begin after the firm collapsed on September 23 to obtain refunds.
Atol-protected customers who were already abroad when the firm failed can also claim for the cost of replacing the components of their holiday that were financially protected, or out-of-pocket expenses for delayed flights.
Claims must come from the passenger who made the booking. The form needed depends on how you paid and with whom you made your booking.
Customers should visit the CAA website, thomascook.caa.co.uk/refunds, for information.
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