It’s all too common to plan a getaway and see what looks like an amazing deal — a vacation rental with a below-average price, or super discounted airfare. But these tantalizing offers may actually be scams that could lead to financial losses or even identity theft.
In 2020, consumers lost a whopping $175 million to travel scams.* Read on to learn how to avoid the top travel scams and protect yourself from identity fraud this summer.
Fake Travel Promotions
- The “free” trip: In this classic scam, fraudsters advertise a “free vacation” or make calls or emails to targets announcing that they’re a “prize winner.” It sounds like a great deal, until they insist on a reservation fee in order to be “eligible” for the offer. They may even ask for credit card information to “verify your identity.” In reality, there is no trip. Scammers try to lure folks in with the promise of a free trip in an attempt to take their money and credit card information.
- Phony travel clubs: This scam encourages vacationers to buy a travel club membership that will give them “free trips” or amazing deals on future vacations. However, new sign ups never receive the benefits promised. They end up losing the money from the membership fee and compromising any credit card or personal information they provided.
- Fake airline tickets: This scam advertises a fake deal on cheap airfare from a major airline, but the confirmation emails don’t include any tickets. Or, after the tickets are paid for, a fake customer service rep calls to say there’s been a price surge and an extra charge is required to finalize the booking. This scam uses a fake website or phone number that looks like the airline’s real website, so always double check a website’s URL (www….) to make sure it’s not a copycat. Watch out for URLs that include the word “free” or have “http://” at the beginning (instead of “https://” which means the site is securely encrypted).
Bogus Vacation Rental Listings
- Shady payment requests: Scammers posing as vacation rental owners tell potential guests they will get a better deal if they pay directly via wire transfer, prepaid debit card, or cryptocurrency, instead of going through the rental website. This request is a clear indication of a scam. These direct payment methods are difficult to trace and can make it almost impossible for guests to get their money back.
- Fake properties: The property is in a prime location with a below-average price. It’s on a legitimate rental website but upon closer inspection, the photos are pixelated, there are no reviews, and the address doesn’t show up in map searches. These are all signs the property may not exist. Other scammers will copy a real listing’s information and replace the owner’s contact information with their own. Below-average prices and shady requests from the host can signal you’re encountering a scam.
- Copycat sites: Some vacation rental hosts will say they have other properties that may be of interest and request an email address to send the link. They send a listing which looks like it’s on the legitimate site, but is actually on a copycat scam site where they may be able to steal their target’s personal information. Avoid this scam by always keeping your communication on a legitimate rental site, which has encryption that can protect your information and will block links to outside (fake) sites. Double check website addresses to make sure you’re on the correct site, and never contact hosts directly by email or phone before confirming your booking.
International Document Scams
- Visa imposters: Need a visa for your international vacation? Find information on your travel destination’s visa process through the U.S. Department of State website — or your own government’s website if you’re not American — instead of through a search engine. Imposter websites pose as a country’s official visa site, and may even have the same information as the real site, but will charge expensive fees and any documents they provide are not valid.
- Speedy passports: Anxious for your passport to arrive on time? Websites offering to speed up passport applications or renewals for a fee are scams that could result in identity fraud. Stick to your government websites for all your passport needs and never provide your passport information over the phone or email. (Learn how to protect your passport while you travel.)
- Fake International Drivers Permit (IDP): An IDP allows international travelers to drive a motor vehicle in many countries. Beware of the numerous websites trying to sell fake IDPs. The only U.S. organizations authorized to issue IDPs are the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA).
How to Protect Yourself From Travel Scams
Watch out for these red flags that can help you identify and avoid travel scams:
- Shady payments: Never pay for travel reservations via wire transfer, gift card, prepaid debit cards, or cryptocurrency. These methods are difficult to track and make getting money back harder, if not impossible.
- Urgency: Scammers pressure their targets to act fast. They may say someone else is looking at the house or the airfare offer is about to expire. Their goal is to rush a traveler into paying them or sharing personal information before there’s time for due diligence.
- Fishy reviews: Beware of companies or hosts that have no reviews, or reviews that are outdated, negative, or look formulaic. Use the Better Business Bureau (BBB) site to check on a company’s reputation.
- Obscure websites: See a great deal on a site you’ve never heard of before? Do some investigating to confirm the website is legitimate before you make a booking.
Pro Tip: Working with a travel agent, like the ones at AAA Travel, can also help you avoid travel scams.
Watch out for these travel scams and red flags while you’re planning your vacation, and remember — if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Learn how Identity Champion can help you defend against identity fraud this summer.