BBB: Beware of increase in travel scams during the summer
As the rainy spring season gives way to the warmth of summer, many Texans are eagerly planning their summer travel adventures with friends and family. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the 16-week period between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend has historically been one of the busiest for traveling domestically in the U.S., with 657 million long-distance trips made during this time in 2001.
While the pandemic has affected the rate of traveling for the past year, recent data suggests that traveling is beginning to make a comeback. While still less than its pre-pandemic levels, air travel has seen a marked increase in recent months, with approximately 465,000 domestic flights recorded in March 2021 – a significant difference from the May 2020 all-time monthly low of approximately 180,000 flights.
Unfortunately, with increased opportunities to travel, scammers are looking to take advantage. In the first six months of 2021, Americans have lost over $370,000 to travel scams across the nation and over $190,000 just in the past two months, according to reports generated by BBB Scam Tracker.
“The rate of travel scams generally increases during the summer months,” said Heather Massey, vice president of communications for Better Business Bureau serving the Heart of Texas. “They can take a variety of forms, either as sweepstakes, airfare, timeshare or rental scams and can completely disrupt even the most meticulously planned travel schedule. Spontaneous traveling can be a lot of fun – but it is important that travelers spend the time to research their lodging arrangements, rentals and any deals or discounts that they are offered by a business and do not allow a sense of urgency to rush them through the decision-making process.”
The top five most-reported travel scams include:
• Vacation rental con. These con artists lure in vacationers with the promise of low fees and great amenities. The "owner” creates a false sense of urgency – such as telling potential clients that another vacationer is interested in the rental – to get payment up before doing sufficient research or questioning the legitimacy of the ad.
• “Free” vacation scams. When a cruise or travel company advertises a vacation as “free,” it does not necessarily mean the trip is without cost or restrictions. Watch out for add-on fees for air transportation to the port, port charges, taxes, tips and other undisclosed fees.
• Hotel scams. When staying in a hotel, beware of scammers who use various techniques to obtain credit card information, including fake front desk calls, “free” wi-fi connections and fake food delivery.
• Third-party booking site scams. If you book your airfare, hotel or other travel through a third-party website, be sure to use caution. BBB Scam Tracker continues to receive reports of scammers pretending to be online airline ticket brokers. In the most common version of the scam, travelers pay with a credit card and, shortly after making the payment, receive a call from the company asking to verify name, address, banking information or other personal details – something a legitimate company would never do.
• Timeshare reselling cons. A timeshare owner looking to sell gets a call from someone claiming to be a real estate broker or agent. These scammers claim to specialize in timeshare resales and promise they have buyers ready to purchase. To secure this service, the scammer pressures the target into paying an upfront fee. The timeshare owner pays up, but the reselling agent never delivers.
To assist those with travel plans this summer season, Better Business Bureau recommends prospective travelers follow these guidelines:
• Get trip details in writing. Before making a final payment, get all the details of the trip in writing. This should include the total cost, restrictions, cancellation penalties, and names of the airlines and hotels. Also, review and keep a copy of the airline’s and hotel’s cancellation and refund policies and the cancellation policies of the travel agency or booking site used.
• “Too good to be true” deals. As is common in various scams, if the deal or discount seems to be too good to be true, it probably is. Scammers often use this tactic to lure in potential victims and use aggressive “limited time” language to entice travelers to pay before they can research the business.
• Avoid wiring money or using a prepaid debit card. These payments are the same as sending cash. Once the money is sent, there is no way to get it back. By paying with a credit card, charges can be disputed and dramatically limit liability from a fraudulent purchase.
• Call the rental owner. If you are not using a service that verifies properties and owners, do not negotiate a rental solely by email. Many scammers don’t live locally. Speaking with the owner on the phone, asking detailed questions about the property and local attractions will clarify if the listing is genuine. An owner with vague answers is a clear red flag.
• Unsolicited offers. Be particularly cautious if you “win” a free trip without entering a contest or sweepstakes. This is especially true if the offer is time-sensitive and requires the consumer to accept and pay for the offer immediately or risk it going to another “winner.” Check the official website of the company the offer is originating from to verify that it is legitimate.
For more tips on planning your summer vacation travel plans, visit BBB.org.