FINALLY! Travel is opening up. Europe is opening. Cruises are going out of the US. Airline schedules are expanding. Are you as hungry to travel as I am?
BUT beware! As travel restrictions are lifted, travel scams are on the rise. The Federal Trade Commission reports $26 million in travel, timeshare and vacation scams from January to March 2021. Action Fraud reported that 56% of the fraud cases are due to booking airline tickets and 29% of them are due to fake accommodations.
What do scammers want? Your credit card and personal information to use in whatever way they way.
Why are we so prey to these travel scams? Consumers are still looking to find rock-bottom deals on airfare, hotel rooms, and rental cars that were common during the pandemic. But now that demand is back, prices have rebounded. Scammers love to prey on the demand and cause havoc with your personal information while profiting from their clever techniques.
Let’s talk about 5 red flags that should tell you SCAMMER AT WORK.
Red Flag #1 – Asking you to pay by gift card, cryptocurrency, or debit card.
If they are asking you for a specific payment method, it is a good sign this is a scammer. If you use your “traditional” credit cards, you have recourse to reverse the charge if it is a fraudulent transaction. Gift cards, money orders, cryptocurrency, etc. offer you NO recourse.
Red Flag #2 – Advertising cheap car rental or airfares from a website you have never heard of.
If it seems to good to be true, it probably is. Always check the email address the sender is using as well as the URL for the website you are visiting. They can make a fake website look just like the sites you would see as legitimate. For example, they can make an airline website look like United Airlines when it has no connection to UA. What do they get? Your credit card info. What do you get? Absolutely nothing as it will not end up with a ticket on a UA flight.
Car rentals are great targets right now due to their sky-rocketing costs. During the pandemic, many car rental companies sold off their fleet of cars. Now that demand is returning, there is a shortage of cars resulting in an increase in fees. I tried to book a car for one week in Florida for a client and it was $3500!
Red Flag #3 – Free vacations or giveaways
As I stated above, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. In our desire to travel, scammers are using free trips, free cruises, and the promise of huge discounts. They will often want a phone call to confirm your free trip. BEWARE! OR they may call you to offer you a free trip. Before you give any information, always ask for the name of the company. Then ask for their phone number and tell them you will call them back. Scammers will often hang up once you make that request or tell you “you need to do this now or the offer is gone.” Pressure to “do it now” is often a sign of a scam.
Red Flag #4 – TSA (Transportation Security Administration) precheck offers
The only legitimate sites are CBP.gov (US Customs and Border Patrol) or tsa.gov (Transportation Security Administration). Anything else should immediately send a red flag. These two organizations would never send you a solicitation email or phone you asking for information. If you receive such a call or email, do not respond or provide any personal information.
Red Flag #5 – Timeshare repurchase offers
Timeshares were a popular purchase during the “now seniors” early travel. With the decrease in discretionary spending during the pandemic, many individuals want out of their timeshares. Unfortunately, there are many scammers aware of this and may solicit you offering to get you out of your timeshare “for a small fee”. They then take the fee and provide you little to no options to get out of your timeshare. Protect yourself if you receive this type of solicitation. Do your research and make sure you understand your options as a timeshare owner.
Bottom line: Be a wise and careful consumer. Seek the advice of experts to assist you in planning your return to travel.