Not surprisingly, demand for flights, rental cars and hotels has caused prices to spike. Trying to stay within your vacation budget will have you hunting down cheap travel. And while you’re looking for a good deal scammers are looking to get your money, credit card info, or even your identity.
Once you know these con artists’ tricks, however, you’re less likely to fall victim to their travel scams.
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Rental Car Scams
Scammers are eager to prey on travel-starved Americans with fake rental car deals. “A rental car shortage is causing prices to skyrocket, and scammers have found a clever way to cash in,” warns the Better Business Bureau (BBB). “They claim to be able to get you a deal on your rental, but it’s really a way to trick you into paying hundreds of dollars for a car that doesn’t exist.”
Once you know these con artists’ tricks, however, you’re less likely to get taken for a ride by a rental car scammer.
Gift card and prepaid debit card promotions
When searching for a rental car company, be careful about clicking on the top search results. You may unwittingly click on a scammer website providing a phone number to talk with a “customer service representative” who has no association with a legitimate rental car company, according to the BBB.
The agent may claim that the rental car company is offering low rental car rates as part of a special promotion. The only thing you need to do to get the discounted rates is pay for the rental car with a prepaid debit card or gift card from a certain issuer and then share the PIN with the representative. Once you purchase the card and hand over the code, the scammer transfers the money, and you end up waiting on a rental car that never arrives.
Never pay for a rental car with prepaid debit cards or gift cards. Once you make payment using those cards, there is nothing you can do to get back your hard-earned money.
You may think you’re on a well-known rental car company’s website, but the site could be just a knock-off created by a scammer looking to cash in on your desire to get out of town. Don’t take it for granted that a site offering discounted rental cars is legit, since search results that are ads can lead you to a phony website. Instead, look up the domain name on ICANN, a lookup tool where you’ll find information about the true owner of the website.
If the information from the lookup is for a different company than the rental car company you think is offering low rates, search for the actual rental car company’s website. Then call the customer service number on the site to make sure the website you’re planning to book a car on is the official site.
Bad reviews or complaints
Before booking from a rental car company or travel site, perform a search for reviews and complaints to find out what other customers have to say. Type in “scam,” “complaints” or “review” so you can learn whether the company comes through on its promises or leaves its customers in the dust more often than not.
Rates too good to be true
When rental cars for a week at your destination are going for $600 a week but you find a website offering the same type of car from a reputable rental car company for $200, it’s probably time to back up and lock the doors on that deal. If you still think the discounted rate could be valid, call the rental car company directly to find out if the discount is available and then book the car rental directly with the rental car company if it is a true discounted rate.
“Con artists are creating fake airline ticket booking sites or customer service numbers,” according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB). No matter how much you want to get out of town, snapping up the first cheap airline ticket you find from an unfamiliar source during an online search could lead to fraudulent credit card charges, unexpected price increases and other unwelcome surprises.
Ticket broker imposters
If you book your airfare through a third-party website instead of directly with the airline, use caution warns the BBB. While there are many legitimate third-party travel companies, fake airline ticket brokers are out there too, waiting to take your money under false pretenses.
“These sites will cancel your airline ticket reservations, but not before charging you. In the most common version of the scam, you pay with your credit card like normal,” says the BBB.” But shortly after making the payment, you receive a call from the company asking you to verify your name, address, banking information, or other personal details – something a legitimate company would never do.”
If you’re considering buying an airline ticket from an unfamiliar company, do your research first, before providing your credit card information. Look up reviews and the company’s rating on the BBB website. Do an online search under the company’s name, watching for reviews from other customers or scam alerts.
That social media ad for cheap airfare to Cancun, Mexico, may look like a fantastic deal, but clicking on that ad could take you to a fake website that’s just a front for a scam, warns the BBB. Websites that raise red flags include those with no working customer service phone number, no physical address. Another tipoff: Typos and grammatical errors.
When you purchase an airline ticket directly from the airline or a legitimate travel company, you’ll pay through a secure link (URL) that starts with “https://” and displays a lock icon on the purchase page. If the airline ticket broker or travel company insists you buy tickets on a page with no secure URL, don’t do it. Instead, purchase your ticket from the airline directly or a company or website that is familiar and provides a secure URL for payment.
Useless confirmation messages
If you purchase an airline ticket from a scammer, you may receive a “confirmation” email from the company with all the details of your flight – but no ticket attached to the bogus confirmation. When you call the airline directly, you find out the flight was booked, and maybe wasn’t even available in the first place.
Surprise price increases
One airline ticket scam results in getting hit up for additional charges after making your purchase. The company may call you after you book your flight, demanding extra money to finalize the booking. Then when you call the airline the flight is supposedly booked on, you find out the flight was never booked at all – but the scammer charged your credit card anyway.
“Fraudulent charges made on a credit card can usually be disputed, whereas that might not be the case with other payment methods. Unfortunately, there is no way to get back the personal information you may have shared,” says the BBB.
Scammers making false promises for vacation destinations abound, according to a recent bulletin from the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
“When planning your next trip, be wary of false promises and a sense of urgency that can fool you into paying for something that doesn’t exist,” warns the BBB. “Don’t fall for robocalls or fake flyers.”
But you don’t have to have your vacation plans grounded by fraudsters.
Vacation rental lures
A 2019 investigation by the BBB found widespread fraud in the vacation rental home market, with nearly half (43%) of online shoppers coming across a fake listing. Even worse, more than 5 million consumers lost money to vacation rental home scams.
With vacation rental scams, the “owner” typically creates a false sense of urgency, telling you that someone else also wants to rent the property you desire, for example. Then they push you to pay immediately before you’ve had a chance to check their legitimacy.
If you’re not using Airbnb or a similar reputable vacation rental platform, the BBB recommends speaking with the rental property owner on the phone before confirming the rental reservation. “Speaking with the owner on the phone, and asking detailed questions about the property, and local attractions will clarify if the listing is true. An owner with vague answers is a clear red flag,” says the BBB.
When you come across an offer for a “free” vacation from a cruise or travel company, don’t be too quick to climb onboard. Just because the trip is marketed as free doesn’t mean you won’t end up paying additional costs or fees, according to the BBB. The same goes for trips you supposedly “won” without even entering a contest.
Hotel rates and airfares so low that they seem too good to be true probably don’t actually exist, says the BBB. And if a salesperson is pressuring you to sign up now or lose the opportunity, hang up the phone, walk away or delete the too-good-to-be-true text message or email.
Just because you’re staying at a reputable hotel doesn’t knock you off a scammer’s radar. Scammers posing as front desk staffers might call you late at night, when they know you’re tired from traveling, asking you to “re-verify” your credit card number. Also beware of food delivery scams, where the menu hanging on your hotel door latch is fake and the scammer is only after your credit card information when you call to order.
Another hotel scam to avoid is fake free Wi-Fi connections set up by scammers who control the unsecured connection through their own computers. “Avoid doing any banking transactions or checking personal accounts when using an open Wi-Fi network,” warns the BBB. “Use a secure, private network if it is absolutely necessary to access personal or financial accounts.”
Third-party booking sites
Even though there are plenty of legitimate third-party travel websites, there are also scammers out there only pretending to be online travel brokers. This scam typically works because after you pay for air, hotel or travel through the third-party site, someone from the company calls and asks you to verify your credit card number or banking information, “something a legitimate company would never do,” according to the BBB.
Before booking through a third-party website, always check the company’s Better Business Bureau rating and BBB reviews and complaints.
Report travel scams
If you believe you have been the victim of credit card fraud contact your creditor, the credit bureaus, as well as the police to report the theft.
Depending on what information you believe was stolen you may become a victim of identity theft. You should also contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at IdentityTheft.gov.
Article last modified on July 18, 2023. Published by Debt.com, LLC