Travel Scams on the Rise: Here’s What to Watch For
From Birch Gold Group
Used to be an overpriced tourist trap was the biggest concern most travelers faced. The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns temporarily ended tourism and travel worldwide. The end of lockdowns created a flood of Americans who are desperate to get away from it all for the first time in nearly two years. As always, high demand and money have spawned a cottage industry of travel scams that are becoming depressingly common. Every traveler, vacationer or business tripper should beware of these travel scams.
Travel agency scams
Scammers know that tourists eager to return to traveling and are looking to swindle hasty and unsuspecting travelers of their money through various means. Weeding out suspicious travel agencies is perhaps the most important thing to look out for. Amy Nofziger, AARP anti-fraud expert, pointed to bargain deals as an example of a red flag that should alert the customer.
Travelers should do thorough research into the company they are buying tickets or accommodations from, especially their standing with the Better Business Bureau. They should likewise check what ticket prices to a certain location usually cost. Some scammers advertise cheap airline tickets, charge a fee, and then just use a search engine to find the best publicly available price.
While a good deal on a trip doesn’t have to be a bad thing, travel expenses with a digit shaved off the usual cost are the tell-tale of a scam agency. Nofziger also said that scammers will often ask the customer to pay with a prepaid gift card as opposed to a credit or debit card.
On-location scams: phantom cars and identity theft
Once travelers have arrived at a location, they’ll more likely than not look to rent a car to move around locally, making way for yet another subset of travel scams. Here, the traveler will arrive at their destination only to find out that the car they reserved isn’t there, and the company is nowhere to be found. Meanwhile, the funds are gone and the personal information is likewise being stored or used for nefarious purposes.
Again, research into the car rental company, including reviews and how long they’ve been in business, will help avoid situations like these.
Another common scam involves fraudsters offering accommodations that are not theirs, not a tourist rental or misrepresented. They will sometimes pull pictures of vacation properties from trusted travel sites and then reach out to tourists on social media, claiming that the property is theirs and offering to rent it. The easiest way to avoid this is to ensure that all communication with the person offering accommodations is done through a reputable intermediary site. This will also help avoid misrepresentation in the case that whoever reached out to you is an actual property owner.
However, travelers should still check reviews of the property they will be staying at to ensure that they are getting their money’s worth.
The days of refund scams might already be waning, but they were huge during the pandemic. Fraudsters combed through online ratings sites and contacted folks who’d made reservations or other travel arrangements and were struggling to cancel them.
According to Zach Pardes, a spokesman for the review platform Trustpilot, the scam went as you’d expect:
The offer was simple. Pay them a small fee and they would fight to get you your money back for your now-canceled vacations. They were very good at the first part — collecting a fee. But that’s where it ended. And for their efforts, consumers found themselves out even more money in the midst of a pandemic.
Even though the pandemic is on the wane, vacation and travel plans will still change. It’s smart to be aware of this particular trick should you find yourself embroiled in a struggle over a refund at some future point.
You can lose more than your money
As usual, personal information and data is often just as valuable to scammers as immediate monetary gain. Besides giving out information to an illegitimate company or source, one should also avoid connecting to a public Wi-Fi unless they are very confident in the security of their device. If not, it’s better to use the carrier’s network connection over airport and hotel Wi-Fi whenever possible.
How to protect yourself
The number one solution for combating fraud is simple, but can be challenging in the online world: Know who you’re working with. A quick online search should give you a strong indication, pro or con. BBB searches are a great starting point.
Never give out personal information, or payment information, via phone unless you’re certain you can trust the recipient.
Finally, remember: the cheese is always in a mousetrap. If a deal looks too good to be true, you’re right.
Knowing what to look out for is key to defending against most scams. To help you detect and avoid financial scams, Birch Gold Group has pulled together an extensive resource guide that is now available on our website. The Birch Gold Group Scam Protection Resource Guide helps you identify warning signs and provides you with tips on how to avoid fraud.2021, cyber fraud, scam watch