While many Americans are anxiously checking the weather on July 4th, others are scrambling to book last-minute vacations. Before you type in your credit-card information, beware of the scammers who are ready to take your hard-earned money and give you nothing but a massive headache in return.
Travel fraud rose 16% in 2017, according to Forter, an e-commerce fraud prevention firm headquartered in New York. And same-day hotel reservations are 4.3 times more likely to be fraudulent, according to Sift Science, a San Francisco-based company that specializes in online fraud detection.
In fact, travel and vacations scams were the most costly for consumers in 2017, with a median loss of $1,710.
What to watch out for when booking a vacation
High-pressure booking tactics: Last-minute vacation bookers are a scammer’s best friend. They’re looking for fast deals and are ready to punch in their credit card information quicker than someone who is booking a vacation months from now. No matter how desperate the circumstance, don’t ever be rushed into making a decision.
“Legitimate providers will tell you that they can’t guarantee a rate of inventory in the future, unlike scams that tell you that you’re losing out on a great deal or would be crazy not to book now,” said Jeff Sakasegawa, Sift Science’s trust and safety architect. “Scammers, especially those in fly-by-night operations, are looking to maximize their sales.”
Fake online travel agents: Fake online travel agencies have become one of the most common travel scams, according to Scam Detector, an online fraud-prevention company. Fake travel companies almost mirror legitimate sites.
Unsolicited travel emails: Did you win a free cruise? Congratulations on joining an “elite” group of other winners who have been or are about to be scammed. Do not open the email or click any link from an unsolicited source. The same goes for robocalls that say you’ve won a vacation, and ask you to call back.
How to protect yourself against scammers
Ensure that a link is legitimate: Web extensions like Amazon’s
Alexa will tell you how many people visit a website and where it ranks worldwide. If it’s fake, the site will have a low ranking, Forter’s vice president of marketing, Vered Gottesman, said. There are even fake Airbnb listings that use photos from actual listings to lure victims.
Never wire money or pay with a prepaid debit card or gift card: If you pay for something using one of these methods, it can be nearly impossible to recover your money once it is in the hands of a scammer, according to the Federal Trade Commission. If you must, use a credit card instead, which will typically carry stronger security protections.
Continually monitor transactions: Scroll through your transaction history on travel sites to watch for erroneous charges, Gottesman said. Make sure that you don’t have multiple credit cards on file with such sites, especially when it comes to accounts that you don’t use frequently. Any security breach of even legitimate sites will leave you vulnerable to fraud.
Avoid reusing the same password: Using password managing tools like Dashlane, LastPass and 1Password can help generate secure passwords and automatically change your password if a hack has been detected in one of your accounts.
Get a copy of the contract before you put down any money: Even if you found a deal on a legitimate website like Airbnb or booking.com, it is important to always read your contract carefully to ensure that you do not encounter any surprises when you arrive at your location.