There are several types of travel scams you have to be alert for. This information comes from the National Consumers League (www.ncl.org)
Vacation Rental Scams – These scams typically crop up on online classified sites like Craigslist.com. The victim will search for an apartment or home for rent in a desirable destination and find an attractive rental at a very low price. The victim contacts the “renter” (who is in reality a scam artist) who then requests a “deposit” on the rental. Typically it is requested that the deposit be sent via wire transfer. The victim then arrives at the property to find that it either does not exist, that the condition has been misrepresented, or that it was never available for rent. Efforts to get back the deposit fail. Scammers typically use images from a real property (often taken from real estate sites) to make their scams seem legitimate.
Timeshare Purchase Scams – Victims are lured to a high-pressure sales pitch (sometimes at the timeshare resort itself) with promises of a high-value “free” gift, such as a car, RV, or cruise package. To obtain the gift advertised, the victim must pay a “fee” for delivery or processing. When the gift arrives (if it ever does), it is typically of much lesser value than presented to the victim.
Fraudulent Timeshares – The victim receives a package in the mail or via email detailing a timeshare for sale. If the victim invest, they later find that the timeshare does not exist and the timeshare company has “gone out of business,” or otherwise is unable to return the deposit paid.
Fraudulent Vacation Packages – Victims see an advertisements for a deeply discounted vacation package at a luxurious resort or cruise. After the deposit is paid, the victim finds that the quality of the package has been grossly misrepresented and/or there are significant additional fees that must be paid at the destination to take advantage of the “great deal.” Efforts to recover deposits are generally unsuccessful.
Airfare Scams – Victims are lured in by promises of steeply discounted airfares. Once the purchase is made, the victim receives no confirmation or a counterfeit confirmation e-mail or paper ticket. A variant of this scam occurs when the victim purchases the ticket and is then told that their credit card purchase has been declined. A wire transfer is requested which results in no ticket and no way to recover the funds.
Hotel Room Scams – You are at your hotel and just settle down in your room. The phone rings. “Hi, this is Mary from reception downstairs, sorry to bother you. We’re having trouble with your credit card–the numbers can’t be properly processed. Would you mind double checking it with me, so we can do it manually?” “Sure. Do you want me to come downstairs?”, you say. She responds, “I wouldn’t want to disturb you more than I already have. Just read me the numbers and I’ll make sure they’re accurate.”
Unfortunately, “Mary” is not working for the hotel; she is working for your money. Scammers usually call room numbers non-stop, until they find somebody who just settled in and really believe the card transaction didn’t go through.
You can avoid this by going to the front desk in person and make sure the clerk is actually requesting your credit card information.
Tips for Avoiding Travel Scams
So, before you head out on your dream vacation, bone up on these tips for avoiding travel-related scams:
- Watch out for unsolicited e-mails, phone calls and faxes offering hard-to-believe deals on travel to desirable locations. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- If you are working with a travel agency or vacation planning service, make sure to get all details about the trip in writing. Watch out for vague promises that you’ll be staying at “five-star” resorts or riding on “luxury” cruise ships at cut-rate prices.
- Thing again before you believe promises that you’ve won a “free” vacation. Often, these are just thinly-veiled ploys to get your credit card information to “verify” your eligibility or to pay a “processing fee.” You should never have to pay to collect a prize.
- Check out the travel company BEFORE giving them any money. A Better Business Bureau search is a good first step. Also make sure that they company is registered with the American Society of Travel Agents.
- Watch out for “travel clubs” that offer “free” memberships. Often these services do little except charge your credit card every month and provide few if any benefits.
- Always use your credit card when purchasing a trip. If you feel that you’ve been swindled, you can dispute the charge with your credit card company.
- Beware of timeshare deals that involve high-pressure sales pitches (often featuring a come-on like a free lunch or “free” vacation). Timeshare seminars are often thinly-veiled ways to get consumers to sign up for timeshare that are full of hidden fees and traps.
- If you’ll be traveling overseas, call your credit card company and bank to let them know what countries you’ll be visiting and when you plan to return. This way they can be on the alert for any suspicious charges from a scammer that gets your credit card information while you’re on the road or after your get back home.