Summer vacation season can lead to an increase in travel scams. You may see more travel ads and discounted trips while browsing social media or scrolling through your inbox. However, not all these offers are legitimate. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Americans have submitted over 43,000 reports of travel scams and fraud to the Federal Trade Commission, losing upwards of $78 million and counting.
Scammers are ramping up their activity to take advantage of people booking vacations and those hunting for last-minute travel deals. This summer has been particularly fertile ground for criminals thanks to an increase in travelers as COVID-19 travel restrictions lessened. They are targeting your booking deposits and attempting to gain access to your personal information and financial accounts to commit further fraud.
Let’s review how you and your family can avoid becoming the next victim of vacation travel scams — both online and offline.
TYPICAL TRAVEL SCAM SCHEMES
- Fake Vacation Rental | Fake listings for properties that do not exist or are not for rent
- “Free” Vacation | You are gifted a free vacation but asked to pay add-on fees, taxes, tips, and other undisclosed charges
- Calls from the Front Desk | A vishing scam from someone pretending to be from your hotel, offering upgrades and requesting to add a card on file
- Fake Booking Site | A fraudulent website created to look like a travel book site but is built to collect your personal and payment information as you make a reservation. Bolster Research found a 4x increase in fake travel sites in the first six months of 2021.
Beware of the Signs of a Travel Scam
Preparing for your vacation should be as stress-free as your upcoming time away. Travel scams can easily extend beyond the planned trip, impacting your financial and personal information and compromising your identity.
Consider the following red flags of travel scams:
- You find yourself in a high-pressure situation where you are asked to make a purchase right away on a rental without seeing a contract or meeting the property lister. This could be in person or through a number of email or text exchanges, or even via the phone.
- You are asked to wire money or purchase gift cards as a form of payment or deposit on lodging, transportation, or excursions.
- You are asked to share unnecessary Personally Identifiable Information (PII) such as your Social Security number, driver’s license, or passport number to secure your reservations.
Don’t Fall for Vacation Scam Calls
Nearly 1 in 3 Americans say they’ve fallen victim to a phone scam in the past year, according to research from TrueCaller. One particular caller could claim that you are a winner of an all-inclusive vacation. As exciting as the offer sounds, the fraudster orchestrating this travel scam is after your identity or your money in return for a nonexistent reservation. They will ask for personal information to book the reservation and your credit card information for a deposit fee.
Registering for the FTC National Do Not Call Registry or using a call blocker app can help reduce the number of unwanted scams and robocalls you receive, but it’s not foolproof. Caller ID Spoofing — where the caller presents false information on your caller ID to get you to answer the phone — is increasing as fraudsters look for ways to bypass the call blockers. Protect yourself from phone scams by never divulging personal or financial information over the phone unless you are the one who has initiated the call to a trusted merchant or a known travel agent.
Look Before You Book
Researching your vacation destination and hotels can reduce the opportunity for criminals to sabotage your summer plans. Keep the following information in mind when planning your hotel stay:
- Ask family and friends for recommendations of hotels they have previously visited.
- Google the company name and check for complaints or negative reviews before making a purchase. Review their profile with the Better Business Bureau too.
- Book directly through the hotel’s website to avoid being misled by third-party sites.
- Request to see a contract or cancelation policy before booking your vacation. Review any hidden charges such as excessive processing fees, peak travel charges, extra unidentifiable taxes, or any additional items you would not expect to see from a legitimate travel partner.
By using caution and front-loading your research, you can avoid the hassle of having to find last-minute vacation plans and enjoy some rest and relaxation.
Tips to Protect Your Vacation Plans
- Come to your vacation prepared with printed copies of all booking information. Should your reservation go missing in the hotel’s system, or if you’re asked to pay a higher price, having a record of your booking will help confirm what you paid for.
- Resist clicking on suspicious bargain travel offers. Tempting offers are often a disguise for a phishing scam waiting to capture your information.
- Always use a credit card when booking your vacation. You can dispute your fraudulent booking charges if you are a victim of a scam.