THE convenience brought to consumers by the digital age has not come without its risks.
As more of our daily routines are carried out online - banking, shopping, travel booking - we take more on trust. And that leaves us vulnerable to fraudsters who are intent on using our numbers, identities and our faith in the internet as we scan websites for the dream holiday villa.
The travel agents' body ABTA and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau knows of 4500 cases of holiday booking fraud in 2013 - that's almost 100 a week, and the real figure is far higher. "Most people are too embarrassed to report it," says ABTA's Sean Tipton. Some 1350 people were conned into booking an exotic villa that did not exist, "with some arriving at their destination to discover they had nowhere to stay", says ABTA. "The second most common scam involved consumers paying for fake airline tickets or tickets which never showed up, which accounted for 21% of complaints to police in 2013 with average losses of £1000 per victim."
Package holiday fraud accounted for 17% of reports in 2013, and this year packages for the Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games in Scotland, and travel to the World Cup in Brazil, could prove a target.
Tony Neate, chief executive of Get Safe Online, said: "There are some simple steps people can take to reduce the chance of becoming the next victim of holiday booking fraud. The most important thing is to do your research - check a range of online reviews of the holiday you are about to book and that the company you are booking with is a member of a recognised trade association. If you're satisfied it is legit, make sure you use a credit card to pay as it offers more protection. Likewise, check the site is secure before paying by looking out for a padlock symbol in the browser window frame and 'https://' at the beginning of the web address."
Research published last week by CIFAS, the UK's fraud prevention service, reveals that more than 60% of frauds recorded on its database in 2013 were the result of the abuse of identity details.
Neil Munroe at ID specialist Equifax commented: "There are so many ways that a person's identity is at risk, from shopping online where all sorts of personal information is often requested - and handed over in return for special offers and discounts - to keeping receipts in wallets or throwing away financial statements and documents without shredding them.
"We are also concerned that many people still don't realise how easy it is for fraudsters to use the personal information available on social networking sites to steal their identity and open accounts in their name - and then there's the use of mobiles and smartphones for storing all sorts of personal information."
Munroe added: "It's important to understand the value of your private information and take precautions to keep ID fraud at bay because fraudsters need as little as three pieces of data to begin fraudulent activity."
A survey by credit-scoring specialist Experian suggests 86% of adults in Scotland are registered with some form of retail website, with more than 70% registered online with a utility, broadband or mobile-phone provider, and a similar proportion holding at least one social networking profile.
Experian advises using unique passwords for as many accounts as possible, avoiding family names and choosing mixed-character passwords that are changed frequently.
Financial Fraud Action cautions against opening emails and links from unknown sources, and says only limited personal information should be shared on social networking sites. It notes that open wi-fi hotspots pose greater risks than private networks, and says consumers should be aware of how much information they access via mobile devices.
FFA highlights the persistent threat of malware - malicious software - which can be kept out using security software (often available from a customer's own bank) along with online protection such as Safe Key from American Express and Verified by Visa.
A Valentine's weekend at a romantic lodge on Loch Ness looked so appealing that Laura Parks and husband Sean, a soldier on leave at the time from service in Afghanistan, handed over more than £1000 in an online booking.
The lodge was advertised on Facebook and through a professional-looking website, but it turned out that photos of a Scottish lochside lodge had been copied from a legitimate website, and the Yorkshire-based couple had been lured to a phoney site and booked into a non-existent lodge. ABTA says: "Laura and Sean were stranded in blizzard conditions and were forced to spend money on securing alternative accommodation, as well as losing close to £400 on their original booking for the lodge and meals after paying the bogus company through bank transfer."