Recently, I was surprised by an unexpected piece of mail that looked legitimate: an offer for free flight vouchers from US Airlines. All I had to do was pay a minor processing fee, which could be done over the phone, and I could jet off to wherever I liked.
That’s when I got suspicious. What airline gives away tickets at random? As it turns out, none do.
After some research, I found out the letter was a fraud, and has been frequently reported to the Better Business Bureau. US Airlines isn’t even a company, the name is simply a melding of US Airways and American Airlines. This kind of travel scam is so prevalent that US Airways has issued a scam alert, along with warnings about phishing emails that have fake confirmation codes and fraudulent phone calls about dividend miles.
As I kept digging, I discovered that the letter is one of many possible vacation scams, all designed to trick you into giving up your financial and personal information (which can lead to identity theft) or convincing you to part with a hefty, non-refundable deposit. Lured in by sweet deals, victims try to “book” a trip, only to find out later that the travel provider is a fraud.
Some fraudsters are also creating scam websites that look like legitimate services such as Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity and others. Travel expert Peter Greenberg estimates there have been about 2.5 million questionable bookings (meaning they couldn’t be verified as connected to legitimate providers), giving scammers over $220 million in revenue.
Spot the Fake
With so many travel scams online, how can you ensure that an offer is real? Here are some signs that will help you identify a vacation scam:
- Incomplete information on vacation rentals. Before you book that charming house on Cape Cod or a Paris apartment, be sure you know exactly what you’re getting. Legitimate rental agencies will have answers about cancellation policies, key location, emergency contacts and other details. If your rental agent is evasive about any information, it could be a scam.
- Requirement of advance payments. For some rentals, a deposit is required, but that should always include a written contract before you hand over any funds. With travel scams, it’s more likely that you’ll be asked to pay the entire amount in advance, which scammers claim is part of the “deal.” Be wary of large upfront payments, especially if you’re directed to other websites to enter your credit card number.
- Deals that that are too good to be true. There are scores of great bargains when it comes to travel, but scammers tend to promise some ridiculous offers, like an all-inclusive week at a spa for $100, or free flights. When booking a vacation, shop around on recognized sites and snap up good prices when you can, but always be wary when you find extremely reduced rates on any kind of rentals, flights or hotel rooms.
Besides getting credit card information, vacation scams can also open people up to identity theft, since the scammers will have valuable personal information — like credit details, family names, ages and addresses — that would make it easier to build a profile. Getting savvy about these scammers can be a valuable part of identity theft prevention.
Have you received this or any other travel scams lately? Share it with us on Facebook – the more we share information about vacation scams, the closer we can get to shutting them down together.