Avoid being scammed while traveling
Keep these travel tips in mind and avoid being scammed when you’re taking your summer vacation or traveling throughout the year.
Vacationers are a favorite target for thieves. Everyone knows travelers often carry cameras, jewelry, credit cards and cash with them. All it takes is a momentary distraction for you to lose your valuables. Criminals also know tourists are often busy taking in the scenery, which can distract them from danger. We begin June with a list of common travel scams so you can be better prepared this travel season.
Common Scams When You’re Travelling
- Don’t accept taxi rides from people that approach you in airport baggage areas offering you taxi service discounts. If you take them up on their offer you may end up paying more than you should when the taxi driver takes a longer route to your hotel. Your best bet for an honest cab ride is the airport’s taxi stand.
- When the front desk tells you your room number make sure no one else could hear. Thieves are known to hang out in hotel lobbies gathering information on guests when they check in. If in doubt, ask for another room.
- Be wary of “shoulder surfers” when using public telephones. Vacationers are often targeted for their calling card numbers. They’re stolen when you type the numbers into phone keypads. Make sure you cover the pad by cupping your hand over the keypad or otherwise block your entry from preying eyes. There may be times you have to say your number out loud when speaking to an operator. When doing so, make sure no one else is within earshot.
- Be alert for distractions that could expose you to thieves and pickpockets. Examples are children showing you toys, garbage being thrown at you, squirting things on you, attractive members of the opposite sex rubbing against you, or situations where you’re expected to help someone out of compassion.
- Travelers are a popular target of car accident scams for insurance money. Be on the lookout for vehicles cutting you off or stopping in front of you suddenly and for no reason. If you hit them, you’ll be blamed immediately for damage to their car and personal injuries. If you’re involved in a car accident while on the road, take photos of the scene and write down as many details as you can. The other driver may claim more serious injuries or car damage than you saw.
Travel Club Scams
The fees can be high and the rewards few if you join a travel club to gain access to exclusive travel discounts
People that like to travel are always on the lookout for discounts. This can make them succeptible to travel club sales pitches. Travel clubs offer discounted travel packages to their members. To get in on the deal a membership fee is required. These travel club membership fees vary and can be as little as a few hundred dollars to as much as $10,000, with annual renewal fees of $150 to $300. That’s a lot of money to pay up front for a discount. The sad truth is that many of these clubs are nothing but a scam.
Travel Clubs Often Tareget Seniors
Travel clubs target seniors because they have both money and a yearn to travel. That’s a great combination for someone trying to make a sale. The brochures are loaded with photos of beautiful locales and the presentation by the sales staff will details the advantages membership will bring you. They’ll promise to take care of any obstacle that lies in the path between you and fabulous vacation settings. You’re aleady lockd into a time-share? No problem, they’ll help you sell it at a generous profit that makes membership all the more affordable. Some clubs even offer to set you up with 1 year-no-interest financing. Whatever you need, they’re there to help.
Guess what happens should you decide to jump on the vacation gravy chain?
Discount Travel Clubs – Reality Check
Any money paid to these clubs is probably wasted. What do you get for your membership? Nothing less than the opportunity to purchase vacations at discounted prices. This benefit would certainly justify paying a small fee were it not for a few minor problems. These are:
Are these vacation packages really discounted? How could you even know?
How does these packages compare with others? You might be able to find out yourself but the details of the package could make a fair comparison difficult.
Memership fees can be outrageous. How much you pay up front for your membership could indicate the degree to which you are getting scammed. You could argue that every penny is wasted if the travel club’s packages aren’t priced at a discount.
The truth is that many of these clubs collect fees both from you and the travel suppliers they work with. Travel clubs that serve social needs with modest dues that cover no more than club expenses are your best bet.
Travel Agent Scam Tips
Keep these travel scam tips in mind the next time you book your next vacation through a travel agent or agency.
- Check the company out Does the travel agent belong to a professional organization? (American Society of Travel Agents, Association of Retail Travel Agents, Cruise Lines International Association) Are they a member of the Chamber of Commerce? If you don’t know find out before you give them your money. If the answer to all of them is “no”, you have to wonder how serious this person is about being a travel agent.
- What’s their track record? Do the employees seem experienced? Are there complaints against this company at the Better Business Bureau? If you Google their name do you see reports of unhappy customers? It’s easy these days to start a travel company. Just build a half-decent website and away you go. If the company isn’t known to you do some research before you give them any money. Protect yourself by never paying for travel with credit cards. Never pay by personal check. Never, ever pay for travel with cash. Always use your credit card because if they rip you off you stand a good chance of recovering your funds as long as you report it to your credit card company soon enough.
- Do your due diligence! This means that you should always do some research before purchasing a vacation. I don’t care how well known and respected the company it is. The advertised deal you are responding to might cost more than you thought because of fees hidden in the fine print or an individual within a fine organization my use tactics that are less than ethical. Be on your guard at all times because with the price of travel these days, a lot of money is at stake.
Other Travel Scams
- Save money by becoming a travel agentDoesn’t this sound like a sly, savvy way to save money on travel? Travel agents have access to many freebies, discounts and commissions so why not become one? There’s more than one company out there waiting to take your money should you heed their ads. Once you’ve sent them the required fee, you’ll be sent documents that say you’re a travel agent. Now you can join in on the low-priced travel feeding frenzy, right? Wrong. These mythical discounts and freebies no longer exist. Furthermore, in order to sell travel and be recognized by a supplier, you need to be affiliated with either a travel agency or be registered as an independent seller of travel with either the Cruise Lines International Association or the Airlines Reporting Corporation.
- Deceptive pricingExpect to be lured by what appear at first glance to be low prices. Further scrutiny often reveals the sad truth hidden in the fine print. Additional fees and conditions can add up to a lot more than you might think. If a flight is only one-way you may need to double the amount! The travel industry is well rehearsed at creative pricing but the airline’s have turned it into an art form. They’ve given us frequent flier redemption to unavailable seats, to bogus two-for-one offers. It’s easy to miss something and get stuck with a bad deal. Make sure you aread all of the fine print and understand all of the costs associated with your trip before you finalize your purchase.
- Timeshare ScamsWe don’t think you should ever attend a timeshare presentation. If you’re truly interested in a property, ask them to send you some information through the mail. They’ll be happy to oblige and you can check it out in peace and quiet while you evaluate its pros and cons. A timeshare presentation can be a nightmare. You will be put under a lot of pressure to close a deal immediately because once you leave the room the low price you’ve been quoted is gone…forever! They don’t want you to think about it or have to to read the fine print or compare their properties with others. Who knows what you might find. You could walk out thinking you’ve purchased a deam vacation only to find out that you owe $50,000. Some consumers understand the real price they’re paying but are told how easy it is to sell their time for more than the original cost. You heard me right. You can turn this into a magic money machine. The salesperson really has no idea how easy it is or what prices you could fetch. What do they care. They just want to make a sale. Do yourself a favor and ask a lot of questions and insist that any claims made are supported by more than a salesperson’s say-so.
- Out of businessThis may not be intentional on the part of the cruise line, tour operator, airline or travel agency but when they go bankrupt and cease operations people lose out on vacations that have been paid for. You can lower your risk by checking on the financial health of the company, check the Better Business Bureau and purchase travel insurance when offered.
Travel Scam Tips
Travel scams can quickly turn a dream vacation into a nightmare. Our travel scam tips can help you avoid getting burned as you plan your next holiday!
- Be wary of offers “free” trip offers. If you are see an offer for a free trip or vacation and decide to respond, be ready for a sales pitch. The free trip offers are usually marketing ploys designed to lure you to them so that you can be hard sold on products or services you don’t want or need. That trip isn’t free when you’re asked to buy something first.
- Unsolicited travel offer emails. Most of these are total scams. If you didn’t ask for it, don’t respond. If you’re interested and have never heard of the company making the exciting offer, don’t respond. Our advice is that you never respond to unsolicited emails. Ever.
- Read the fine print. That awesome vacation package may have hidden fees lurking in the fine print. Read it. That’s what it’s there for. For example, the trip to Disneyland could be free, but you have to buy your own airline tickets and pay for your own hotel rooms once you arrive. Other times, you’re required to site through a long, time-consumer timeshare presentation or listen to a travel club’s sales pitch when you’re on your “free” trip.
- Deal or no deal? Don’t be surprised if your vacation deal ends up saving you less money than you expected. Once all arrangements are made you may realize that some of the package’s restrictions and requirements end up costing you more than if you’d booked the trip through your travel agent or done it yourself online. Some travel offers only apply if you bring someone else along with you and they pay regular prices. It will be there in the fine print, so make sure you read it!
- Are there restrictions? What good is that vacation deal if you can’t use it when you need to? It should come as no surprise that the best deals are to be had at off-peak travel times. This rules out family trips during school breaks, major holidays, or any other time people are known to travel. You may agree to purchase a trip only to find out later that the dates you want to travel on either cost a lot more than you were told or are booked solid.
- Confirm all arrangements and reservations. Are hotel and transportation to and from the airport included? If so, make sure you have either confirmation numbers or a way to confirm these travel arrangements yourself.
- Do some research before making a purchase. It’s never been easier to gather travel information on your own. You can contact your travel agent directly, grab a newspaper, check out a book from the library or search for it on the web. With only a little effort you can probably find a trip at a more competitive price than most offers you receive over the phone or in the mail. A little work can pay off big time if you’re willing to take the time.
- Pay for travel with your credit card. If you pay for a dream vacation and it turns out to be a scam or the company goes belly up, you’ll hate yourself if you paid for it with anything other than a credit card. Paying by credit card has many advantages over other payment methods. If you’re ripped off or find yourself needing to dispute charges you stand a good chance of getting your money back. Federal law says you are only liable for $50 if you report unauthorized charges soon enough.
How to Report Travel Fraud
If you’re a victim of travel fraud, notify ASTA’s office of consumer affairs, call the National Fraud Information Center’s hotline at 800-876-7060, or contact local law enforcement for help.
Visit our fraud reporting section for more information.