Ready to go on vacation? Vaccinated? Masks ready? Disinfectant and wipes at hand? Anti-scam radar activated?
Americans are ready to travel after more than a year of postponing vacations, family visits, and travel in general. Demand is strong and growing for airline tickets, car rentals and resort accommodation. As an example, try renting a car in Florida or California. Availability is limited and prices easily exceed $ 100 per day for compact or medium rentals.
High demand + low supply = price increase + scams.
As we have seen so many times during the COVID-19 crisis, criminals step in quickly and take advantage of a perfect storm. This column has warned in the past about the dangers of letting emotions take over, and vacation planning opens another door to emotions.
So what are some tips and approaches to take as the summer vacation season approaches?
• If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
Free or super cheap vacation deals are clever marketing campaigns for timeshare property sales or extended vacation plans at best. At worst, they are scams used to commit financial and identity theft.
Avoid these promotions. In general, companies do not profit from giving everything!
• Automated call and spam offers involving recognizable travel brands such as Hertz, Avis, Hilton, Hotels.com, or cruise lines may sound attractive but, again, these are probably scams.
If you’re drawn to any of these promotions, do your due diligence. Contact the company named in the offer, using verifiable information, and ask if the offer is legitimate. If it is a scam, the real business will want to know about it.
• Beware of discounted vacation rentals.
Currently, pent-up demand for rentals in traditional vacation destinations has pushed prices to the highest levels in years. Criminals know this and use attractive prices and stylish graphics, often on recognizable websites such as airbnb, to lure vacationers looking for bargains.
In some situations, after payments have been made, potential vacationers have arrived at the property only to find that the deal was a scam. Do some quick research before you “grab” any of these bargains. Check the developer and location before placing a deposit on the property (avoid the “deal” if it involves the use of gift cards).
Use Google Earth or maps to get a “street level” view of the property. Contact the Better Business Bureau with any negative reports regarding the property or owner. Yes, it takes a while, but you’ve waited a year. While the deal may be lost, another week devoted to research may prevent victimization.
• Beware of websites reached from pop-up advertisements.
These pop-ups are triggered by the sale of search data by internet companies (search for “car rentals” and in a short time you will see car rental pop-ups).
While it is possible that the data behind these advertisements was bought by legitimate companies, the purchase, or theft, of the data could have been committed by criminals.
Be careful if you enter these websites. Check the URL (address line) of the web page, noting the source of the page. A URL such as www.joesdiscounttravel.com displaying identical graphics on the Delta Air Lines web page should be an immediate reason for skepticism.
• When making prepayments for vacation expenses, always use a credit card, never a gift card or debit card.
Credit card companies offer services and protections when charges are fraudulent. Purchases of debit cards and gift cards offer less protection and the probability of losses is quite high.
• When booking travel online, use a VPN (virtual private network). VPN software can be purchased and installed to provide an additional layer of protection for your computer and communications.
Don’t let fall “under the ether” (high emotional state) or lack of attention to detail ruin a vacation and result in significant loss.
Want a free list of anti-fraud resources? Questions? Comments? Contact me at [email protected]
Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and coordinator of the AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network. He hosts a CATV program, “Mr. Scammer”, distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland, Vermont: gnat-tv.org.