Planning a Summer Getaway? Tips for Protecting Yourself Against Travel Fraud

With summer vacation in full swing, consumers might want to look carefully before booking their flights and hotels. Travel fraud has jumped about 16 percent in 2017. Moreover, major airlines report losing about $2.4 to $4.8 billion each year to credit card fraud, costs that often end up getting passed down to consumers.

Check out this list below to recognize common fraud techniques used to mislead unsuspecting consumers:

  1. Fraudulent Travel Agencies and Websites

Scammers can pretend to be a legitimate travel agency. CNBC reports that, in 2016, “consumers made 55 million bookings through websites they thought belonged to a hotel – but later realized was actually a rogue third-party operator.” These websites are also known as “mirror sites,” since they often use the hotel’s name and logo on the site and include real photos of the hotel.

  1. Unfair Travel Package Deals

According to Experian, some travelers will plan their trip in advance and pay with a credit card, which is generally advised due to protections that some credit card companies offer, but some travel service companies may try to pressure consumers into booking a travel package that is actually a rip-off. Pressuring language can emphasize how time-sensitive and cheap the deal is. Shady travel agencies might hope that consumers will not realize that they have been given a bad deal, as consumers can only dispute credit card purchases within 60 days of receiving the bill. It is always a good idea to do extensive research and compare prices before settling on a package, especially if booking far in advance.

  1. Rental Fraud

There are several types of rental fraud, here are a few:

  • Altered Ads

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns consumers how scammers can hijack a legitimate rental or real estate listing by taking the ad, changing the contact information to their own, and posting the altered ad to other websites. In other cases, scammers hack the email accounts of the real property owners.

  • Non-existent Rentals

Alternatively, scammers can create rental locations that are not actually available for renting or are in a dilapidated state. They can even list rentals that do not even exist. Scammers may ask you to wire money or ask for a security deposit or payment before meeting. Wiring money to people you do not know is risky in general because there is no way to get it back.

  1. Free Vacation Deals

Free is often too good to be true. According to Experian, scammers may also offer free vacations that are “on the house.” Fraudulent free travel offers typically do not list any specific dates or any fees attached to the offer. Experian suggests to always read the fine print and do a check on the “listing companies’ track records on websites like Trip Advisor, and review the listed record of the company on the Better Business Bureau website.”

  1. International Driver’s License Scams

When traveling to a foreign country, travelers may assume that they will need an international driver’s license in order to drive in that country or rent a car. However, an international driver’s license is not the proper term, as the real document is actually called an international driving permit (IDP). According to the FTC, a U.S. driver’s license is sufficient to drive in a foreign country. An IDP “translates your government-issued driver’s license into 10 languages,” because “the translations in the IDP are intended to minimize language barriers when you drive in countries where English is not widely spoken or understood.” It is not a substitute for a valid, government-issued license.

Buying a fake IDP can cost travelers $60 to $400, and consumers may face legal issues if caught using one. According to the FTC, “many local operations target non-native speakers through ads in foreign-language newspapers that direct people to websites or local storefronts.”

  1. Currency Exchange Scams

According to Experian, street-based storefront currency exchanges may appear be convenient and accessible but they “can charge onerous fees and provide the wrong amounts on currency exchanges” since scammers “count on the foreign travelers not knowing the currency rates while traveling abroad.” Experian advises to “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.”

In addition to travel fraud, another way to stay vigilant while traveling is to stay alert about luggage theft. According to CNN, there were 30,621 missing valuables claims made between 2010 to 2014. CNN reports that hidden cameras have revealed airport workers stealing valuables from luggage. It is recommended that travelers double check their luggage after passing a security checkpoint.

For more information on travel fraud, the FTC has a guide for detecting these scams. To report a scam, the FTC also has an online complaint form.

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