Travel scams and booking fraud can hide in plain sight and quickly turn planning a fun vacation into a financial nightmare. It’s important to be vigilant when browsing travel deals, especially if they seem too good to be true—but also when they don’t.
According to e-commerce fraud prevention firm Forter, travel fraud rose by 16 percent in 2017 thanks in part to new booking technologies.
“Travel fraud is accelerating based on the rapid growth of online travel booking services,”the firm said in a press release. “The use of digital devices and apps raises the potential for travel fraud, as it gives scammers another target to perpetrate travel fraud.”
SmarterTravel covers travel scams pretty extensively, but this is indeed an evolving issue. As the quote above says, the travel industry’s rapid and largely wholesale digitization has opened up new ways for bad actors to trick and manipulate people into scams.
Today’s Top 5 Travel Scams
With that in mind, let’s take a look at Forter’s list of what it says are the top travel scams lurking out in the world today.
1. Third-Party “Discount Travel” Scams
Forter says shady companies (which can be seemingly legitimate) “offer ‘instant’ travel discounts designed to lure consumers into impulse decisions.” Then the scammer “will pocket the charges, and all too often not provide the services promised or skimp on the offerings.”
2. Free Vacation Offers
This is the classic case of a too-good-to-be-true travel scam. When in doubt, though, lack of specific information can signal a scam. “To recognize a fraudulent deal, know the warning signs, which include offers of gorgeous locales with no specific mention of hotels, resorts, or airlines,” Forter says. “Additionally, the free travel offer doesn’t list any specific dates or any fees attached to the offer.”
3. High-Pressure Booking Tactics
If you’re pressured to pre-pay for a hotel or travel package to secure a low price, ask questions or vet the company to make sure it’s legitimate. By the time you arrive months later and discover the scam, your credit card company may no longer allow you to claim fraud, Fronter points out. “According to the FTC, there’s a 60-day limit on disputing a credit card purchase.” Forter says. “By the time the consumer figures out the travel company is ripping him or her off, it’s often too late to get their money back.”
4. Rental Fraud
This scam has blossomed with the widespread adoption of online vacation rentals like Airbnb, but companies are adapting. “Here, consumers looking to book a place to stay will search for a good deal and dig up a home with a great rental price and contact the ‘owner,’” Forter says. “In reality, the owner is a scammer who insists on an immediate down payment on the property rental,” often via a bank wire.
Travelers show up to find the rental in poor condition, if one even exists at all. In a welcome change, Airbnb now holds payment from rental owners until 24 hours after you check in, which gives you time to take action in the event of a surprise.
5. Fraudulent Currency Exchange Scams
Travel scams can also follow you to your destination. Foreign countries are full of convenient places to exchange your money. Unfortunately, many of these businesses prey on travelers who don’t know the exchange rate or lack a good sense of reasonable exchange fees. “Such exchanges can charge onerous fees and provide the wrong amounts on currency exchanges, always in favor of the storefront currency exchange,” says Forter. This is also true of online options for order currency ahead of your trip.
Travelers can easily avoid this travel scam by using reputable banks and financial institutions to withdraw money when they arrive instead, and using credit and debit cards when possible. Just make sure you’re aware of any foreign transaction fees (or switch to a bank that doesn’t have any) and monitor exchange rates from a reputable source, like XE.com.
Travel Scam Resources
The overarching theme here seems pretty simple: Make sure you know the person/company/institution that is handling your money. Use businesses you trust, and book through established companies that provide legitimate security measures.
The web may provide opportunities for scammers to scam, but it also offers travelers the tools and information they need to make smart, educated choices with their money. If you encounter a company you’ve never heard of, do some research before handing over your hard-earned cash. The Better Business Bureau is a great sources of information on which businesses are legitimate. TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company) can also provide insight from other travelers’ reviews of hotels, tours and activities, and pretty much any other provider you might encounter during a trip.
Avail yourself of those resources, and chances are your money will be safe.