Consumers looking to travel cheaply are a big target for con artists. Budgets are tight these days. Vacations and business travel are often either financially impossible or a significant budgetary strain. You might be tempted to sign up for the promise of wildly inexpensive deals, but be sure to keep your guard up.
Whether safe and comfy at home, freshly arrived in a travel hub, or settled in at your final destination hotel, it’s advised to stay alert to scams, swindlers and even legitimate institutions who will try to take your hard-earned money.
The scams start before you’ve even left the house. Whether you are actively looking for good travel deals or only considering a vacation because you got an offer that seems too good to be true, keep an eye out for the following scams.
Free Vacation Scams – Sent via a postcard in the mail, junk email, or unexpected phone call.
The consumer is told they have won a free vacation, or it is one of several prizes in a sweepstakes. A credit card number is requested for a small service fee only to be charged if you accept the free vacation, and you have 30 days to refuse once you have reviewed the offer package which will be mailed to you immediately. Traditionally, the package are mailed late, if at all, and by the time you try to refuse the offer, the 30 day period has ended and you have been hit with a “service fee” of several hundred dollars.
Dream Vacation – A great deal is offered at a ridiculously low price. Once the deal has been accepted and credit card information taken, the consumer learns there is a catch: A second round-trip fare or hotel booking must be made at the regular price. Only this regular price is normally two to three times higher than if you had gone to a travel agent or bought from the airline in advance.
Cheap Vacation – A promise of an all-inclusive vacation that is unbelievably cheap. Don’t believe it. The salesperson fails to ever mention your trip doesn’t include meals, booze, taxes, deposits and surcharges.
Discount Travel Packages – Beware of being sold discount travel packages. You often will end up paying a hefty fee for a book containing coupons and discounts that are available for free to travelers through the local chamber of commerce or business organizations.
Become a Travel Agent – Currently a popular scam. You pay a fee to a company and it issues you “credentials” which entitle you to free perks, travel discounts and commissions on the travel you book. First, the days of free perks and travel discounts are pretty much over, even for legit travel agents. Second, in order to be recognized by a supplier as a travel agent you either need to be affiliated with a legitimate travel agency or registered as an independent seller with either the Airlines Reporting Corporation or the Cruise Lines International Association. Don’t throw your money away.
Travel Scam Red Flags – If you are working booking through a company that you don’t have a pre-established relationship with look out for any of the following scam warnings: advanced payment is required without a written contract; transactions by courier rather than post office (they might be trying to avoid mail fraud statutes); transactions can only be carried out over telephone; offer is for a “limited time only”; prices far below market value; vendors names (for hotel, airline, etc) not disclosed in writing.
You’ve booked your tickets and have arrived in your destination city. The airport, bus or train terminal is a madhouse, and when you are approached with one of the following offers you might be tempted to consider them. Be wary.
“Taxi?” – These guys will approach you while you wait in the legitimate cab line offering, “Taxi” or “Limo”. Be careful. Criminals using this ruse have been known to drive off with traveler’s luggage, or take them to a deserted area and rob them. At the very least, you will probably be paying 3 to 4 times more than if you waited for the actual taxis. Always make sure there is a company and car number marked on the taxi as well as a list of charges. Let them see you investigate the rate list thoroughly; they will be less likely to get creative in their charges.
“Hotel?” – They appear official, with laminated badges, clipboards or possibly even laptop computers. They’ll offer you a great rate and wow you with colorful brochures of the beautiful hotel they represent. Cancel your other reservation, come stay with us. We’ll save you money. Once you get there, either all the promised rooms with the great rates or surprisingly booked up, or they didn’t exist in the first place. You’re tired. It’s late. And now you’re willing to part with a few dollars just to get to bed. The scam artist gets a tip from the hotel clerk and you get to pay more than expected.
Hotel Representative – Beware of anyone approaching you who claims to be a representative from your hotel and offers to drive you there directly. Often, they will take you to another hotel where you will end up paying a much higher rate as you try to figure out the confusion.
You might be checked in, but you’re still not safe from those trying to separate you from your travel funds. They can be scam artist and even those “legitimate” hidden hotel charges.
Front Desk Scam – This is a popular new scam that has been gaining momentum lately. It’s late at night or crazy early in the morning; you get a call from the front desk of your hotel or the manager. The person claims to have just started their shift at the front desk and needs to verify your information, claiming the forms were left unfilled or done so improperly. They read you the last four digits of your credit card. They’re wrong. It’s late and you’re tired, so you give the correct number, and the expiration date when asked. Or if you were called by a manager, they claim the card transaction was denied and ask for the information to send it through again. The problem is, these folks don’t work for the hotel. They are con artist who call the hotels at late hours, ask for random room numbers, and then hope the sleepy, unsuspecting travelers to fall for the scam.
Hotel Charges – Always, always, always, check your bill at the end of a hotel stay. Hotels regularly make billing mistakes and charge you for services or goods you did not use. Not surprisingly, these billing mistakes are almost always in the hotel’s favor. Also, fight any hidden fees and get quotes on those and taxes upfront.
Hotel Amenities – Those amenities are rarely free. Look out for the following:
Minibar – This one is a no-brainer since the rates are normally posted within. If not, know that you will be paying $4 for a candy bar or $7 for a can of soda. This is also where most errors occur with phantom charges. So, check your bill carefully.
Phone – Use your cell phone, if at all possible. Rates can range from anywhere between 150% - 400% from what you would be paying for a mobile or pay phone call. It doesn’t matter if you are using a calling card or a local reservation, any call that is not internal will result in a steep charge on your bill.
Internet Connection – Most hotels will provide this service now, but check to see what their fee is. You might save by going to a nearby coffee shop or internet café.
Breakfast – The provided continental breakfasts can sometimes be refused for a reduced room rate. Give it a try. Normally, it’s no more than coffee with a few muffins or Danish. Hardly worth the hidden fee you’d be paying for it.
These are just of the ways a wary traveler can be taken advantage of by both con men and corporations. Whether you are out on business or enjoying some well-deserved time off the last thing you should be doing is stressing about being scammed. Stay smart, think before your act and enjoy your trip.