Protecting yourself against travel scams should be a big priority for Americans hitting the road this summer: Travel fraud rose 16% in 2017, according to Forter, an e-commerce fraud prevention firm.
What Is Travel Fraud?
Travel fraud comes in multiple forms. It can be triggered at any point: from buying airline tickets or booking hotel rooms, to having your credit card data stolen while dining in far-off lands. The rapid growth of online travel booking services—not all of them legitimate—is accelerating travel fraud. Also, the use of digital devices and apps raises the potential for fraud, as it gives scammers another target.
6 Types of Travel Fraud and Travel Scams
Americans heading off on new travel adventures should be particularly wary of these six travel scams:
- 1. Third-Party “Discount Travel” Scams
Third-party firms offer tempting “instant” travel discounts designed to lure consumers to make impulse decisions on hotels, airlines, cruise lines, and other travel packages. Consumers will provide a credit card or debit card number, and these discount firms will pocket the charges, and all too often not provide the services promised or skimp on the offerings.
- 2. Free Vacation Offers
Free vacations from companies you’ve never heard of before just don’t happen, not unless there’s a major catch involved in the deal. To recognize a fraudulent deal, know the warning signs, which include offers of gorgeous locales with no specific mention of hotels, resorts or airlines.
Additionally, the free travel offer doesn’t list any specific dates, or any fees attached to the offer. If you’re considering such an offer, read the fine print included in the offer (especially on fees included), check the listing companies’ track records on websites like Trip Advisor, and review the listed record of the company on the Better Business Bureau website.
- 3. High-Pressure Booking Tactics
Unscrupulous travel services firms will often try to put the pressure on to close a toxic travel deal. They do so for a reason: Travel consumers who book a travel package well in advance often do so with a credit card payment. The fact is, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) there’s a 60-day limit on disputing a credit card purchase (you must dispute it 60 days after receiving the first bill with the charge on it). By the time the consumer figures out the travel company is ripping him or her off, it’s often too late to get their money back.
“Traveling these days can be time-consuming enough without worrying about getting scammed while on the open road.”
- 4. Rental Fraud
With the rise of Airbnb and other private residential home rentals, vacation rental scams involving apartment dwellers or homeowners who offer deep discounts on travel rentals are growing more pervasive. Here, consumers looking to book a place to stay will search for a good deal and dig up a home with a great rental price and contact the “owner.” In reality, the owner is a scammer who insists on an immediate down payment on the property rental.
Often, the scam artists will insist on a bank wire payment, which can be transacted in a day or two, and goes directly into the scammer’s account. When the traveler shows up at the property they find the property in a deteriorated state, or they find that the property is owned by some else, and isn’t available for rent at all.
The good news? Online rental companies are now offering built-in protection against such scams. Be cautious on sites like Craigslist where you don’t have guarantees and reviews aren’t available.
- 5. Bait-and-Switch Scams
Unscrupulous rental providers list a highly desirable, but unavailable, rental property. When a travel consumer signs off on the rental, upon arrival, the renter is told the original listing is unavailable and is steered to a much-less desirable property.
- 6. Fraudulent Currency Exchange Scams
Americans traveling overseas may use street-based storefront currency exchanges, which bill themselves as accessible and user-friendly. Be cautious! Such exchanges can charge onerous fees and provide the wrong amounts on currency exchanges—always in their favor.
Travelers should only use banks and other financial institution currency exchange services, or “currency exchange-only” stores that are accredited and that specialize in currency exchange services. U.S. travelers should always know the current exchange rates between the U.S. dollar and the relevant currency used in the country they’re visiting.
Using a credit card, especially if you don’t have foreign transaction fees, helps you avoid carrying around too much cash. And you can use well-known companies’ ATMs as needed, though you’ll want to be aware of any fees from that bank and yours.
Knowing How to Avoid a Travel Scam
The old adage that “if it seems too good to be true, it likely is” is a handy rule of thumb. If you do sign on to any vacation package deal, get all the terms in writing, and don’t make any payments until you do. A reputable travel service will have no problem doing so, but a scam artist likely won’t want any record of the deal.
Read the fine print on any travel deal and scour your invoice or contract for any hidden fees and charges that weren’t clear upfront. Common travel fees include processing fees, late booking fees, and international departure and arrival fees. Get an explanation on any fees charged for travel, and ask if any can be eliminated or discounted. Traveling these days can be time-consuming enough without worrying about getting scammed while on the open road.
This article contributed by Experian