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BBB on Seniors: Look out for vacation scams

Vacation rentals are a popular alternative to hotels when traveling, which means they are an equally popular opportunity for scammers to steal your money.

Vacation rentals are a popular alternative to hotels when traveling, which means they are an equally popular opportunity for scammers to steal your money.

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With travel on the rise, scammers are lying in wait to cash in on the lucrative business of vacation scams. The BBB Scam Tracker is reporting over $375,000 lost to travel scams in just the first half of 2021, in North America alone, with plenty of potential for loss to vacation goers in the coming months. Be on the lookout for these popular schemes and red flags when booking your next getaway.

  Vacation rental cons - Vacation rentals are a popular alternative to hotels when traveling, which means they are an equally popular opportunity for scammers to steal your money. These cons vary, but can include fake listings for vacation properties that don’t exist or that are disappointingly different in real life than what is advertised. Oftentimes the “owner” of these fake properties create a sense of urgency to book right away by exaggerating interest of other renters with the aim of getting a deposit up front before you have time to adequately research the property.

  “Free” vacation scams - Unscrupulous travel companies will advertise “free” vacations that aren’t actually free. Remember the golden rule of scams: if it seems too good to be true, there is probably a catch. If you are being offered a trip who’s pricing, accommodations, and amenities don’t quite add up then beware. Sometimes it’s disguised as a prize in a contest you don’t remember entering or as a once in a lifetime deal that will vanish if you don’t book immediately. There are often several undisclosed add-on fees like transportation to the port, taxes, gratuities, or other fees that can turn these dream vacations into quite costly nightmares.

  Hotel scams - Hotels are a gold mine for scammers counting on hurried and tired travelers to slip up and compromise their credit card information in a variety of schemes:

- Fake front desk calls are often effective due to their simplicity when scammers call a room pretending to be the front desk agent reporting an issue processing the card on file. Scammers simply ask the hotel guest to verify their credit card information, conveniently over the phone, then use it as they please.

- Free Wi-Fi connections are a way for scammers to skim for your personal information by setting up fake but free Wi-Fi connections that they control from their own computers, used to collect any and all of the data entered by unsuspecting users, including passwords and credit card information.

- Fake food delivery scams are an unsuspecting way for con artists to make a quick buck by distributing take-out menus with fake contact information and the perfect cover for collecting your credit card information right over the phone when you pay for food that will never be delivered.

  Third-party booking site scams - Travel sites are popular amongst travelers looking for a deal, but a telltale sign that you’ve booked with a disreputable site is if you pay online with a credit card and the company calls to verify your personal details like your name, address, and banking information.

  Timeshare reselling cons - Fraudsters in this scam will pose as brokers who specialize in timeshare resales. They tempt you with promises of eager buyers but charge an up-front fee for their service, but after the owner pays up, the scammer disappears and never delivers on the sale.

You can avoid these vacation blunders by following these tried and true tips for keeping your personal and financial information safe while planning your next trip:

- Check for reviews and references. Wherever you are booking your accommodations, check out reputable or known sources for recommendations or ratings including BBB.org.

- Always pay with a credit card when possible because charges made to your card without your authorization can be disputed.

- Never pay with cash or cash equivalents like wire transfers or prepaid debit cards because there’s little to no recourse for buyers if they are scammed.

- Remember, if it sounds too good to be true then it probably isn’t true.

- Look for signs of a scam on websites and advertisements like typos, pixelated images, scarce online activity, reviews, and complaints.

- Always use secure, password protected Wi-Fi connections when traveling and avoid making online purchases on public Wi-Fi connections.

Travel safely and call the BBB Education Foundation at 713-341-6141 if you suspect you’re being taken for a trip you didn’t bargain for.

Melissa Ramsey is the BBB Education Foundation columnist. For more information, call 713-341-6141.