Insight: Fraud warning for business travellers

The global recession caused by Covid-19 is likely to create a spike in petty and digital crimes against business travellers, warns Rodger Cook, Security Director at World Travel Protection. As part of International Fraud Awareness Week, he spoke to The Business Travel Magazine to share his advice for travel managers.

“With leisure travel grinding to a halt due to the pandemic, it is essential businesses consider the greater risks associated with their employees travelling abroad. As we mark Fraud Awareness Week, one area of concern is fraud against business travellers. This often goes unreported and, as a result, many businesses are not only unaware of the growing issue but unable to sufficiently train their people to adapt.

The global economic downturn has led to fraudsters becoming increasingly desperate, particularly in destinations which previously relied heavily on tourism. Business travellers heading to locations which historically see tens of thousands of travellers arriving each day have a much higher probability of being the victim of fraud, which could include anything from fake taxis, being short-changed or being taken to ATM machines and robbed.

Fraudsters have also moved quickly to take advantage of the coronavirus situation, particularly through cyber crime. Travellers might receive alerts or phone calls when arriving in countries from fraudsters posing as official bodies, such as health services, asking to provide personal details.

It is paramount that employers have a strong understanding of the changing environments of the places to which their people are travelling. Different types of fraud are more common in different locations. ATM skimming is common in Europe, for example, while in China we have seen a lot of ‘tearoom frauds’, where travellers go to a shop to get a cup of tea before being held until they pay an exorbitant amount of money for the tea.

Travel managers should also take the profile of the traveller into account, considering how much they’ve travelled before and how they will be travelling at the other end. Will they be using taxis or public transport, will that mean they’ll take cash out from an ATM, for instance. All these small considerations can have a huge impact on safety.

Cyber security is another factor to think about. If possible, companies should facilitate their employees to travel with limited technology, whether that’s taking a laptop that doesn’t have work-related systems which could potentially be compromised, or using an older phone. We still see instances of organisations travelling to places like China, taking all of their normal hardware and logging on to hotel or airport WiFi, which is something we’ve advised against for a long time.”