A global health pandemic hasn’t stopped scammers from creating clever ways to cheat people out of their money. Since the pandemic started in 2020, consumers have reported losing nearly $75 million to vacation scams, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
And those are just the people who reported losses. Typically, thousands more are too embarrassed to reveal they were swindled by scammers. As the world opens up and vaccination rates rise, people are making travel plans at near pre-pandemic levels. At some popular vacation destinations, condos, hotels and other rentals are at maximum occupancy this summer, which can create a perfect storm for criminals looking to make a quick buck. Consider these suggestions before booking your next trip:
Beware of third party booking site scams
If you book airfare, hotel or other travel accommodations through a third-party website, stick with well-known companies and use caution. The Better Business Bureau continues to receive reports of scammers pretending to be online airline ticket brokers. In a common version of the vacation scam, traveler’s pay with a credit card and shortly after making the payment, they receive a call from the company asking to verify their name, address, banking information or other personal details, something a legitimate business wouldn’t do.
Only use credit cards for payments
Using a credit card is the most secure way to make a transaction. Don’t ever pay by wire transfer, prepaid money cards, gift cards, or other non-traditional payment methods. Companies on the up-and-up would never ask you to do that. Also avoid cash-only deals and high upfront payments. Remember, too, that it’s better to use the credit card feature found on most debit cards so you can dispute a payment to get your money back if it turns out to be a scam.
Read the fine print on “free” vacation deals
Just because a company advertises a vacation as free doesn’t mean the trip won’t cost a penny. On some cruise deals, look out for additional fees for air transportation to a port, port charges, taxes, tips and other undisclosed fees, notes the Better Business Bureau. All those
other charges can add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Make sure travel and booking websites are secure
In the top left hand corner of your device screen, look for the “https” in the URL and a small lock icon on the address bar. Scammers who create look-alike websites typically don’t take the time or effort to make sure the web pages they create are secure.
Don’t fall for the “owner is out of town” scam
If a vacation rental host or owner tells you (likely by email or text) they are out of town (or the country) but will have a friend bring you the keys, don’t believe them. The Federal Trade Commission warns consumers about a scam where con artists will go as far using photos
and details of a real rental that’s already booked but with different contact information so that unsuspecting travelers will pay for a house or condo rental that’s not really available.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
Criminals often prey on the elderly and people who can’t pass up a bargain. If you are told over the phone you’ve won a trip when you never entered a contest, be very suspicious. Don’t give in to pressure to accept an offer now because it will be gone soon. Don’t give out personal information over the phone, especially if someone calls you. Legitimate businesses won’t ask for your social security number, bank account numbers or other details that can be used to steal your identity for the purpose of stealing your money.