Ahead of the busy holiday period a warning has been issued to those travelling abroad to look out for car hire rental scams.

The industry body British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) has advised customers to be wary of 'too good to be true' offers over the Christmas period, including very low rates and nationwide availability right up to Christmas Day.

But the BVRLA is aware of many customers who have handed over deposits for cars that are never delivered, leaving them out of pocket and with no transport.

"These companies offer unbeatable prices and free delivery - but they really are too good to be true," said BVRLA chief executive Gerry Keaney. "Unfortunately it is very easy for Christmas conmen to build a simple website and set up a call centre to pass themselves off as legitimate businesses."

The BVRLA has offered the following advice for anyone wanting to hire a car over the holiday period:

1. Look for the BVRLA logo on the front desk or website, as this shows that the firm is reputable and operates to a professional code of conduct. You will also be able to use a free conciliation service in the event of any dispute.

2. Book in advance to get the best deals. The sooner you can make your reservation, the more likely it is you'll be able to get a discounted rate.

3. Ensure you're fully aware of the level of risk associated with your rental - you may have gone for the lowest price available, but be aware of any potential excess charges should the vehicle be damaged or stolen.

4. Never hand over cash. Most reputable rental companies will only want to accept credit or debit card payment.

5. If purchasing online, check you're on a secure site when inputting your card details. Look out for a small padlock symbol in the address bar, and ensure the web address begins with https:// (the 's' stands for secure).

6. Make sure the company is operating from bona fide commercial premises, not a PO Box or virtual office.

7. Ensure the company actually owns or operates the cars it is offering - all BVRLA members operate their own rental fleets.

8. Thoroughly check the car for damage before signing any paperwork, and ensure existing marks are noted down on the form.

9. At the end of the rental, make sure you hand the car and keys back to the company's representative, and not the first person you see at the side of the kerb. Again, check damage with the representative, and keep your paperwork for future reference.