Travel Scams In The Digital Age

Travel Scams in the digital age
Trini
Trini
Updated

How often do you travel? Be it for leisure, business or visiting family, you might be surprised to know that Americans travel quite a fair amount. According to the National Travel and Tourism Office, more than 80 million Americans travelled internationally in 2016. Shocking, isn’t it? However, while many people know the potential dangers of travelling, even more are unaware that the first one starts in the comfort of their own home.

In this day and age, the internet has become such a convenient and accessible tool that makes planning an overseas trip as easy as pie. However, with increased convenience comes increased vulnerability. As it becomes increasingly easier to plan a trip online, it is also easier to fall victim to online travel scams. While travel scams are not new, the online space is so vast and wide that it becomes difficult to discern what is true and what is false.

As they say, it is always better to be safe than sorry. On that note, here are some travel scams we think you should know about to help you ensure that you can protect yourself online!

Travel Scam 1: Free plane tickets

Plane tickets
Source: Pexels

Rule number one: Always be wary, especially if an offer sounds too good to be true.

The good old “congratulations, you have won free tickets for a trip” email may seem wonderful at first glance, but it should have triggered some warning bells if you have never entered any contest to begin with, or if it was found in your spam folder.

With the easy accessibility of online tools, it is an easy feat for scammers to pose as a valid airline offering free tickets to customers. Scammers often take advantage of customers by giving a time pressure for a quick response. When customers call to confirm the offer, they are pressured into joining a travel club with expensive membership fees in return for travel discounts.

How do you avoid these scams and protect yourself?

a) Don’t believe emails stating that you have won if you don’t remember taking part in any such contest. Words like “free” or “win” can be very tempting to many and are used by scammers to trick people, so be sure not to fall into their trap!

b) If you have actually entered a contest, always call to check with the airline first to be certain. Don’t be anxious and accept any offers of membership due to time pressure. When calling the airline to confirm your offer, do not use the phone number provided in the email. Instead, head to the official website instead so that you’ll be sure to contact legitimate representatives of the company.

Travel Scam 2: Cheap accommodation rates

Accommodation
Source: Pixabay

Rule number two: always check the trustworthiness of a website before booking your accommodation.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association reported that in 2016, customers made 55 million bookings on websites thought to be legitimate, but were later revealed to be a third-party dealer. The ramification to customers was 4 billion USD in inaccurate bookings. Not convincing enough? Well here’s a more recent example: a housewife booking a seven month stay in Paris was swindled of around 38, 000 USD by online scammers replicating the Airbnb website. The scammer prompted the housewife into paying a lump sum away from the Airbnb platform on the pretext that she needed to sign a rental agreement. While Airbnb is known to have some of the best deals for accommodation with a trustworthy reputation, this shows that you can never be too careful.

So how does the scam work?

Firstly, scammers could have set up false online listings, with advertisements and pictures of the property that seems genuine. However, after they have received the money, you may find that the property does not exist at all, or that the true owner is unaware of the booking. Scammers could also have seized email exchanges between travel websites and customers and instead redirected the payment to their own accounts instead.

How to avoid the scam and protect yourself?

a) You can check the validity of a website via its URL. For instance, Airbnb’s genuine website would start with “https”, unlike false websites, which might start with “www”. This is important to take note as “https” basically means that any information entered on the website will be encrypted and secured.

b) Never ever wire money to a vacation rental host outside of the website’s official platform. Rental accommodation websites generally provide a built-in payment page to handle payment matters between hosts and guests to ensure the smooth transaction and protection of both parties. Hence, if you make payment outside the website, you are making a risky bet as the company will not be held responsible for any loss of money.

c) Do not ever make contact with potential hosts outside the website platform, nor click on the links included in an email before verifying their authenticity. Again, rental accommodation companies will most likely not be liable for any dealings made outside the website. In addition, it is easy for scammers to create false email accounts to trick people into giving them money or personal information.

Travel Scam 3: Tour package deals

Cruise

Rule number three: think twice before buying an overly discounted package deal, or you might find yourself stranded in another country.

The ruse starts when you decide to sign up for a package deal consisting of a luxurious hotel stay, tickets to a theme park or a cruise ride, topped with a prepared itinerary when planning for a trip. Similar to the free plane tickets scam, a notification will be sent to your email declaring that you have won travel vouchers.

Scammers may subsequently ask for credit card details and your driver’s licence information before you can can collect the prize. After providing these details, the scammers will then attempt to retrieve money from your credit card. Ultimately, these vouchers will either not appear, or will not be accepted by legitimate vendors when you attempt to make use of them.

How do you avoid the scam and protect yourself?

a) Firstly, you can call the company behind the holiday package directly to find out if the offer is true. Do some careful background research about the company and check to see if anyone else has reported a scam by the same company.

b) Err on the side of caution by verifying everything. Make the effort to seek another way to verify the legitimacy of your “prize” and if possible, never give out your credit card number or driving licence information unless you are absolutely sure that it is safe to do so.

c) Be mindful about the payment method. Definitely do not agree to a bank or a wire transfer, as there is less protection. Instead, you can opt for a more secure payment method, like PayPal.

Travel Scam 4: False travel agencies

Travel agencies
Source: Pixabay

Rule number four: choose your travel agency wisely.

With various tools and editing programs on the Internet at their disposal, scammers are adept in creating official-looking websites for new travel agencies, boasting cheap travel promotions and deals. They promote holiday destinations with photographs taken from the Internet, prompt people to pay immediately and shortly later, shut down the service.

In addition, scammers could also construct and imitate websites of actual travel agencies, collect information from customers such as credit card numbers and charge large amounts of fees to the card.

How to avoid the scam and protect yourself?

a) New travel agencies can be tricky as there is no guarantee that it is valid. It is always safer to make bookings through a trustworthy agency instead to ensure that you won’t get cheated.

b) As previously mentioned, check the URL of the website to be certain that it is genuine. Remember, valid websites generally start with “https” while false ones start with “www”.

c) Check for any misspellings in travel agency websites to determine if they are imitations or not. False websites can be really similar to actual travel agency websites, but there are bound to be slip-ups.

Travel Scam 5: Fake website reviews

Reviews
Source: Pixabay

Rule number five: look both ways before crossing blindly.

In other words, make sure to always cross-check reviews on various websites before booking anything.

When going on a trip, it is common for travellers to check out review sites before deciding on a place to go or stay at. Positive or negative reviews on websites such as TripAdvisor have the ability to damage business reputations or mislead travellers. Since the reviews are posted online, there could be an infinite number of anonymous reviewers, who are able to enhance or refute the validity of fictional or genuine businesses.

So really, you never know whose words you can trust.

How do you avoid the scam and protect yourself?

a) As mentioned, do a search on other travel review websites to ensure that the reviews are consistent. If there are any discrepancies, avoid the business altogether and search for an alternative and more trustworthy one.

b) You can also check the background of the potential accommodation host or business. If there is little information provided, or even a lack of a profile picture, you can be sure that something is amiss. Valid hosts or businesses should have a decent amount of information in the form of pictures, and helpful information for potential customers. You can also call them to ensure that their business does exist and is not a hoax.

Travel Scam 6: Flight confirmation phishing

Phishing
Source: Pixabay

Rule number six: beware of not only financial theft, but also identity theft.

Certain airlines offer online check-in services to quicken the check-in process at the airport with shorter queues. Hence, it may not be surprising for travellers to receive an email supposedly from their airline prompting them to confirm their ticket days before a trip.

The email directs travellers to click a link to a seemingly official-looking website to confirm their trip. Travellers are then asked to validate their booking reference or log in via their frequent flyer account.

If you think that there’s no harm in putting down information as long as it is not your credit card number, that’s where you are wrong.

With the flight booking reference, scammers can steal information from a person, such as his or her name, passport number and address, essentially stealing a person’s identity. For frequent flyers, travel points and miles could have been stolen and redeemed later on by someone else.

How do you avoid the scam and protect yourself?

a) Instead of responding to the email directly, you can get in touch with the airline to verify that the email sent out is true. It is always good to re-confirm the information given before giving away any of your personal information on the Internet.

b) Never click on the link provided in the email directly. Whenever possible, go to the official website instead and check if there is such an option to confirm your flight. If it doesn’t appear to be the case, you can be sure that it is a scam.

Travel Scam 7: Holiday voucher offer on social media

Applications
Source: Pixabay

Rule number seven: don’t be fooled by the word “voucher”.

Social media platforms (such as Facebook and Instagram) are constantly promoting advertisements or chances to win free tickets to a concert or a holiday trip. There have been cases where scammers have posed as airline companies such as Delta and JetBlue, appearing to promote free airline tickets on Facebook.

However, the catch is that users are required to link to their Facebook accounts and install an application before being re-directed to a website to claim the offer. The seemingly harmless application can then acquire information about the user and use it for illegal purposes.

How do you avoid the scam and protect yourself?

a) Check for any misspelt pages or airline names. Validated pages by social networks have blue checkmarks, hence you can use this method to weed out the false pages.

b) Look out for warning signs. Official airlines will not ask you to go to their page through an external application nor prompt you to sign in again onto their social network. If you have experienced this, you can report the scam on the respective social media platforms and they will handle it accordingly.

So, what’s the takeaway point?

The moral of the story is, don’t go for the cheap or free option if you are going to end up paying more. While many people love a good deal, sometimes, it may turn out to be more costly than it originally was. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it often is. One thing to remember is that online travel scams not only aim to steal your money, they may attempt to pilfer your identity as well. So be sure to always keep a vigilant eye out for these scams and to not fall prey to online vultures.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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