Are you planning to travel for the holidays or even a big trip for 2022?
Experts warn that travel scams are on the rise.
According to TripAdvisor's latest Travel Index report, more than half (55%) of Americans report that they are planning to travel this winter. This is up from 50% who traveled in this season in 2020, but still lags behind the 63% who hit the road in 2019.
Because of the pandemic, it might be close to two years since some people have planned a trip. Many are getting on a plane for the first time in a long time.
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That means some travelers are probably rusty when it comes to trip planning and those looking to take advantage of that are on the move this holiday travel season.
"Unfortunately, during times when we're more stressed out, especially during the pandemic, there are people that are going to jump right in and take advantage every time,” said Amy Rasor, Better Business Bureau Fort Worth regional director. "Any time you feel that gut instinct, it's pretty much telling you what to do."
So far in 2021, the Better Business Bureau says more than $720,000 has been reported lost to travel scams across the country, with nearly half (49%) of losses occurring during the busiest travel time of the year, the summer season from May-August.
So here are the red flags to look out for in the top five most reported scams, according to the BBB:
Vacation rental con: These con artists use reputable home or apartment rental sites to lure in vacationers with the promise of low fees and great amenities. The "owner” creates a false sense of urgency – such as telling potential clients that another vacationer is interested in the rental – to get payment up before doing sufficient research or questioning the legitimacy of the ad. Oftentimes, the rental doesn’t exist.
"The con artists that are in play in these situations, they're promising low prices, great amenities," said Rasor. "And they're using that sense of urgency that somebody else might snatch that before you do. We always warn, that sense of urgency when someone is pushing, that it's a red flag to take a step back and take your time."
“Free” vacation scams: When a cruise or travel company advertises a vacation as “free,” it does not necessarily mean the trip is without cost or restrictions. Watch out for add-on fees for air transportation, port charges, taxes, tips and other undisclosed fees.
Third-party booking site scams: If you book your airfare, hotel or other travel through a third-party website, be sure to use caution. BBB Scam Tracker continues to receive reports of scammers pretending to be online airline ticket brokers. In the most common version of the scam, travelers pay with a credit card and, shortly after making the payment, receive a call from the company asking to verify name, address, banking information or other personal details – something a legitimate company would never do.
Timeshare reselling cons: A timeshare owner looking to sell gets a call from someone claiming to be a real estate broker or agent. These scammers claim to specialize in timeshare resales and promise they have buyers ready to purchase. To secure this service, the scammer pressures the target into paying an upfront fee. The timeshare owner pays up, but the reselling agent never delivers.
Hotel phone call scams: When staying in a hotel, beware of scammers who use various techniques to obtain credit card information, including fake front desk calls, “free” wi-fi connections and fake food delivery.
"This actually happened to my dad and thankfully, he knew exactly what to do,” said Rasor. “So you get checked in, get into your room, and then the room phone rings. They tell you that they're the ‘front desk’ and need to verify your credit card information that they have on 'file. Thankfully when this happened to my dad, he was like, ‘I'll come down to the front desk.’"
Her father was told by the front desk of his hotel that the call was fake. It goes to show that anyone can be a target.
How To Avoid Losing Money
You can use the BBB Scammer Tracker to check for scams in your area. You can also follow these tips to prevent from being a victim of fraud:
- As you're booking a trip, make sure it's from a site with a weblink that has "https" in the address bar. The "s" stands for secure. It will also have a lock symbol displayed in your Internet browser to confirm that any information you type in will be secure.
- Avoid wiring money or using a prepaid debit card.
- Pay for everything with a credit card so you can easily dispute it if anything happens.
- Call the rental owner. If you are not using a service that verifies properties and owners, do not negotiate a rental solely by email. Many scammers don’t live locally. Speaking with the owner on the phone and asking detailed questions about the property and local attractions will clarify whether the listing is genuine. An owner with vague answers is a clear red flag.
- Before making a final payment, get all the details of the trip in writing. Details should include the total cost, restrictions, cancellation penalties, and names of the airlines and hotels.
- Review and keep a copy of the airline’s and hotel’s cancellation and refund policies and the travel agency or booking site's cancellation policies.
Bottom line, give yourself enough planning time to do the research on anyone you give your money to.
"We're certainly living in a different world, we need to make sure that we're taking our time. Book as early as you can," Rasor said.