Travel scams can cost you money and ruin your vacation, but the results could wind up being a lot worse than that. A hacker or thief who accesses your personal information could steal your identity without you even knowing, in which case you could spend thousands of dollars and several years getting back on your feet.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), many travel scams start out with you receiving a call, a text, or a flyer in the mail. In any of these communications, you may be promised a free vacation or a luxury cruise at a drastically discounted rate. They need your credit card to secure the reservation, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Since 2020, people have lost more than $78 million to travel scams.
Typical Travel Scam Types
There are new scams being devised somewhere in the world as you read this, but these are some common scams experienced by travelers all over the world. By understanding how these typical scams work you can avoid these unpleasant experiences.
Fake Booking Platforms
Fake hotel booking platforms pop up on the internet all the time, and their main goal is getting your credit card information so they can rack up other charges. Also, note that many of these sites feature incredibly low prices and stellar “deals” that are too good to be true.
Make sure to check the legitimacy of a company before you use an unknown website to book hotels or other travel. You can check for legitimacy and reviews using websites like the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Trustpilot.
Unauthorized Credit Card Charges
Arriving home from vacation can be stressful already, mostly due to the piles of laundry and unpacking ahead of you. However, getting home can be even more stressful if a thief got ahold of your credit card details while you were gone.
Credit card fraud happens all the time, yet you don’t have to despair if you see unauthorized charges on your credit card after a trip. Credit cards come with zero liability for fraud, so calling the number on the back of your card to report the theft is your best course of action. Most likely, your card issuer will credit you for the unauthorized charges and then send you a new card to use in place of your old one.
ATMs with Skimmers
ATMs in crowded spaces are often armed with skimmers — tool thieves use to “skim” your credit card information when you insert your card in a terminal. While skimmers can be difficult to spot, you should look for anything out of the ordinary on a payment terminal before you swipe your card. Better yet, use a credit card with EMV chip technology, and “tap to pay” instead of inserting your card whenever you can.
Hidden Resort Fees
Resort fees may be incredibly common in destinations like Las Vegas and New York City, but they’re still a scam. After all, you shouldn’t have to pay an extra $20 to $50 per night for things like internet access or entry to your hotel’s gym, especially not on top of the nightly room rate.
When it comes to resort fees, your best bet is booking hotels that don’t charge them altogether. That said, you’ll want to read the fine print on your hotel booking so you know for sure. If you can’t tell whether a hotel charges a resort fee, you can also call the front desk and ask.
Charter Flight Scams
Plenty of legitimate companies have begun offering private and shared jet charters over the past few years. Unfortunately, many private jet scams have come about as a result, including ones where fraudsters create fake websites promising private charters at rock-bottom rates.
While booking a private jet or shared charter may not be as expensive as it used to be, you can avoid scams by speaking to brokers before booking, seeking references and reviews, and checking the background of a company before taking a flight or giving your payment information.
Vacation “Deal” Robocalls
If you get a robocall from someone promising to tell you about vacation deals, go ahead and hang up. Chances are good that the “deal” they’re offering is nothing of the sort, and that it’s actually a phishing scam meant to procure your personal information or credit card details.
Identity Theft Scams
You’ll need to share a certain amount of personal information to book various types of travel, whether that’s a scan of your passport, a copy of your driver’s license, or your credit card details. Either way, sharing this information can inevitably lead to fraud if it winds up in the wrong hands.
To protect against identity theft, you should diligently check your credit reports with all three bureaus throughout the year. Fortunately, you can do this for free with the website AnnualCreditReport.com.
Fake Travel Insurance Scams
Fraudsters will do anything to make a buck, and that includes creating fake travel insurance websites. Once they begin marketing their policies, their goal is to pocket your premiums and leave you with worthless coverage. To avoid travel insurance scams, make sure you only buy travel insurance from a reputable company. Some of the best travel insurance providers to consider include Allianz and World Nomads.
“Free Vacation” Scams
If you get a phone call, an email or a piece of snail mail stating you’ve won a free vacation, you should take this announcement with a grain of salt. The fact is, many scammers send out mailers promising free vacations to Disney World and elsewhere with the goal of getting some kind of payment or your credit card information.
While there are some vacation offers that are legitimate, keep in mind that you should never pay a fee to win a “prize.” Also, make sure you only give your information to legitimate companies and be wary of anything that seems too good to be true.
How to Spot a Travel Scam?
Like with other scams, legitimate traveler promoters won’t require cryptocurrency, random gift cards, or wire transfers to invest in these vacation offers. If you fall for one of these scam schemes, you likely won’t see your money again.
Here are the warning signs that you’re being targeted by fraudsters and not legitimate customer service agents.
- The email or text you receive asks you to act urgently – it may say something along the lines of ‘We can only help you get your refund this week – so act now!’
- If it’s a written message, it may be full of grammatical mistakes or the tone may not be what you’d normally expect from the company
- If it’s a phone call, the person on the end of the phone can’t confirm they’re calling from a certain company and can’t give you any details about the holiday you’ve booked
- They ask for personal details or the long number on the front of your card and your three-digit security number
- They ask you to confirm whole passwords – not just give a single letter, number, or symbol from a password or memorable word.
- Scammers often try to get your attention by saying you won something but then making you pay to get it. But that’s a scam. If you have to pay, it’s not really free — and all those fees and taxes can add up to hundreds of dollars.
- Not getting specific details about the travel offer. The offer says you’ll stay at a “five-star” resort or go on a cruise on a “luxury” ship. But if the organizer won’t or can’t give you more specific details, like the address of the hotel or the cruise company name, walk away. That’s a scam.
- They say the only way to pay for your vacation rental is by wire transfer, gift card, or cryptocurrency. This is how scammers ask you to pay because once they’ve collected the money, it’s almost impossible to get it back. That’s a scam, every time.
- Pressure to make a quick decision about a vacation package or rental. If someone says you have to decide whether to buy a travel package or rent a vacation property right away, don’t do it. Scammers want to rush you.
How to Avoid Travel Scams?
Now that you know what to look out for, how can you prevent yourself from getting swindled?
Don’t sign or pay until you know the terms of the deal.
Get a copy of the cancellation and refund policies before you pay. If you can’t get those details, walk away. Say “no thanks” to anyone who tries to rush you without giving you time to consider the offer.
Do your own research.
Look up travel companies, hotels, rentals, and agents with the words “scam,” “review,” or “complaint.” See what others say about them before you commit. Also, check that the address of the property really exists. If the property is located in a resort, call the front desk and confirm their location and other details on the contract.
Don’t pay with wire transfers, gift cards, or cryptocurrency.
Dishonest travel package promoters might ask you to pay in one of these ways, but that’s a sure sign of a scam. If you pay with wire transfers, gift cards, or cryptocurrency and there’s a problem with what you paid for, you’ll lose your money, and there’s likely no way to track it or get it back.
Let your bank know you’re traveling
Outside of dodging scam calls, when going on a vacation, it’s good to alert your bank of travel to prevent unnecessary spending from outside parties.
What to Do if You’ve Suffered from Travel Scams?
Many travelers find themselves in sticky situations when they don’t plan or research properly, or they fall victim to scams and travel frauds along the way. Even worse, these kinds of mistakes can put your whole trip in jeopardy if you’re relying on a certain itinerary to make all your plans work out, so it’s important to learn how to do if you’ve suffered from scams and frauds while still getting the best value out of your travel budget.
Don’t forget to report any potential travel scams!
If you’ve received any suspicious-sounding calls, you may have been targeted by a travel scam. It’s a good idea to report your findings to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
Say NO to robocalls forever!
If you get a cold call trying to sell you something, ignore it. Robocalls are usually illegal. If you get an unwanted call, use the RealCall app which also avoids offers that come through text or an unexpected email based on a strong number database and continuous iteration of blocking rules.