You picked your vacation destination, you did all your research, and you clicked that purchase button –only to realize you’ve become the victim of an all-too-common travel scam.
You’re not alone. According to the Better Business Bureau, travels scams cost U.S. consumers over $10 billion each year. Out of the 3,900 industries the BBB monitors, the travel industry consistently ranks near or in the top 25 number in complaints.
With personal information readily available online, it’s easy for scammers to find and contact you to lure you into what you think sounds like a great deal on a vacation.
And if you think that going through a travel agency is failsafe, think again. Since 2009, the BBB reports that there have been over 15,000 complaints against travel agencies.
So before you book your next trip, check out some of the top ways you can get scammed when planning your next U.S. holiday:
1. Discount Travel Clubs: If you are someone looking for a good deal on a travel package, you may be this scammers number one target. Since 2009, there have been more than 4,200 complaints to the BBB about travel clubs. These Internet ads ask you to pay an up front fee to have access to discounted travel deals. “These seem to be popping up a lot offering discounted rates on all sorts of travel related activities, wherein you pay a fee up-front and get nothing in return,” travel expert Lee Abbamonte told Foxnews.com. “These can be set up by anybody in particular with access to the Internet, or resourceful enough to take out an ad in the paper as people are quite gullible if they think they are getting a deal.”
2. Deceptive Pricing: When searching to book a travel or vacation package, you may find a great deal. But, make sure you read the fine print, say experts. “When you get offered a great deal, it’s typically not what you expect,” vice president of Public Policy for the National Consumers League John Breyault told Foxnews.com. It’s the old bait and switch, where they’ll advertise part of a fare to lure in consumers. And it’s just limited to agents. Airlines, hotels, cruise lines, and many other companies are guilty of this scam. How does it reveal itself? “Perhaps the client will have an extra charge on their credit card and the liquidator may have disappeared before the client even realizes they got duped. This can cost the consumer and the credit card companies a lot of money,” said Abbamonte. For example, according to the BBB, a San Diego based firm selling discounted vacation packages on eBay scammed consumers out of thousands of dollars in 2006. After paying for the vacation, consumers realized that their reservations were made on invalid credit cards, or never booked at all. “Travelers should call the hotel and verify on themselves that the agency has made the reservation for them,” said Breyault.
3. Timeshare Scams: The BBB reports that from 2009 to the present, there have been over 16,000 complaints against timeshares. When pressured over the phone to purchase a timeshare at a “one-time-only” deal, these timeshares are often over sold and consumer will never actually use the timeshare they purchased. According to the Federal Trade Commission, telemarketing scams involving timeshare are consistently filed by consumers. “Cold calling works, and there are a lot of suckers out there when it’s just a numbers game,” said Abbamonte. “People want timeshares. They want a vacation home, so to speak, to brag about and will jump at time for what seems like a good deal even from a phone scam.” These timeshare can be illegally or illegitimately sold by just about anyone. “Don’t be pressured into buying when they tell you the offer is only good for next week. If it’s a good deal today, it will be a good deal tomorrow,” said Breyault.
4. Going Out of Business Deals: Cruise lines, small airlines, and other agencies can go out of business before you take your scheduled trip. They go bankrupt and you loose out on your vacation, without a refund. “They come and they go with all kinds of promises and then they disappear like thieves in the night,” said Abbamonte. The National Fraud Center encourages doing research into a company before booking a seemingly inexpensive vacation. “Watch out for things that are priced way below market value,” said Breyault.
5. Spring Break Packages: College students are the most easily targeted for vacation scams because they do virtually no research. They are often approached by their college peers offering an “all-inclusive” trip for a flat rate. “They are just excited at the prospect of Spring Break and are generally drawn to the cheapest deal,” said Abbamonte. “These are fly-by-night operations that easily go away and pop up in a different guise. Parents should be aware of them,” said Breyault.
The easiest ways to avoid these scams are to pay with credit card; do not wire money or send them a check. And, say travel experts, if you purchase anything over the phone or online, be sure to get everything they promised in writing.
Mary Quinn O'Connor is part of the Junior Reporter program at Fox News. Get more information on the Junior Reporters Program here.