Don't let a travel scam spoil your vacation plan
’Tis the season for summer vacations! Whether traveling in your home state, throughout the U.S. or to a foreign country, taking precautions and knowing about potential scams could save you from a ruined vacation.
Book online securely
When booking travel arrangements and hotels online, it is safer to go to a company’s official website or call them directly. Do not click on online ads or links from emails. If using travel search engines, be wary of sites that offer prices significantly lower than other sites. If you choose to book through a third-party booking company, follow up directly with the hotel, airline or rental car company. You don’t want to find out after you arrive at a destination that the reservations were never made!
Make sure you have a secure connection before entering your personal or financial information; the web address should start with “https” and show a lock icon.
Always pay with a credit card when booking vacations, and make sure you receive confirmation in writing. In the event that something goes awry with your vacation, you may be able to file a chargeback with your credit card company. If you are asked to wire money for a rental, that’s a big red flag that the deal is probably not legitimate. Never wire money to someone you do not personally know and trust.
Do your research
BBB has seen numerous reports of vacationers arriving at their destination only to find that the rental doesn’t exist or does not resemble the photos online. Use trusted websites, ask friends for referrals or use a travel agent to ensure you’re going to get what you pay for.
Be skeptical about vacation packages that are offered online, by email or on the phone. If a cruise or resort price sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Victims are often saddled with hundreds or even thousands of dollars in additional “fees,” or the accommodations may be totally inadequate.
Also watch out for promises of “free” airline tickets—there’s always a catch. Victims are often lured with promises of free plane tickets to attend a seminar, which usually involves spending thousands of dollars to buy into a vacation club. Those tickets turn out to be only vouchers with fees that often cost more than a regularly priced plane ticket. And the vacation club? If you did buy in, you might find there are many barriers to actually booking a vacation unless you upgrade your membership or pay additional fees.
Remember to notify your credit card companies before you leave, especially if you are traveling to foreign countries. There aren’t many things more frustrating and inconvenient than having your credit card declined while traveling because the company thinks it’s being used fraudulently.
During travel and once you arrive at your destination, surf cautiously on public Wi-Fi networks (e.g. hotels, airports, coffee shops, libraries). Avoid file sharing and financial transactions, and disconnect when not in use. Be wary of hotel lobby computers available for guests. Identity thieves have been known to add keyloggers onto public computers that track passwords. Believe it or not, your smartphone’s 3G or 4G may be more secure.
While staying in a hotel, carefully scrutinize any menus that are slipped under your door. Fraudsters sometimes use phony menus to trick a guest into calling them to order food, and the consumer ends up giving his credit card information to identity thieves. And of course, no food will be delivered.
Beware of fake front desk phone calls, especially late at night. A scammer pretending to be hotel staff will claim there was a problem with your credit card, and ask you to confirm your card details over the phone. Don’t do it. Personally check with the front desk in the morning to correct any billing issues.
At the end of your hotel stay, check your final bill. Watch for fees that you didn’t incur, such as minibar purchases or TV on-demand movie rentals.
Be vigilant and careful when planning your vacation, and then go and have a wonderful time!
Michelle Tabler is the Alaska Regional Manager for Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington.