10 Summer Travel Scams You Need to Take Seriously
Be wary when you're ready to hit the road—scammers await, and can cost you hundreds of dollars if you're not careful. These are the most common too-good-to-be-true schemes out there, with advice on how to thwart would-be thieves.
Deceptive hotel descriptions
A little Photoshop magic can make even the most dicey of hotels or motels seem spectacular—and there are plenty of scammers out there who will mislead you about what you’re getting, according to a new report on travel fraud from Experian. Make sure you’re getting a solid second opinion—search the internet for reviews (TripAdvisor and Yelp are good places to start), and ask for as many details as possible to make sure you’re making the right decision. Avoid these 10 travel mistakes that make your vacation stressful.
That amazing flight deal or super-cheap hotel may not be such a bargain once you figure in additional costs, such as checked bag fees or resort fees, which could add hundreds to your trip’s overall price. Make sure you read the fine print before you book any travel details to avoid unexpected (and unpleasant) surprises. Watch out for these 10 online scams you still fall for.
You’re taking a risk if you’re not buying your ticket from an official ticket seller—whether you’re purchasing bus tickets or seats for Hamilton. “Most fake ticket complaints are from consumers purchasing tickets off Craigslist and places that aren’t official ticket sellers,” says Michelle Couch-Friedman, executive director of elliott.org, a consumer advocacy site. The trick to avoiding the scam: Only buy tickets through official sites such as the transportation companies themselves, or StubHub and Ticketmaster—and make sure you’re willing to pay the premium for that sold-out performance before you click for the ticket.
Third-party discount travel scams
Discount travel companies push you to book (and fast!) with one-time-only offers. The shady outfits pocket your deposit—and may provide nothing in return. To thwart these thieves, get the travel details in writing, and don’t pay a dime until you can read the fine print. Paying with a credit card may help you get refunded if things don’t go as you planned. These are 10 other sneaky money traps every traveler falls for.
That gorgeous vacation rental you found on VRBO or HomeAway could be a scam waiting to happen—even if it’s a legit property. Some thieves have been able to hack in and redirect the emails from potential renters, then get them to make a hefty down payment via wire transfer. “That’s probably our number one complaint that we see through our helpline,” Couch-Friedman says. And most of the potential renters have lost thousands of dollars in these schemes. To avoid it, be wary of wire transfers, which banks are unable to reverse. Instead, use credit cards to make deposits so that you have some ability to reverse charges, and make sure you’re running every communication with the owner through the Airbnb or HomeAway system so that you’re protected if something goes awry. Don’t book before learning 12 vacation rental mistakes that could ruin your trip.
The timeshare trap
Many people who buy into timeshares regret that decision—in fact, 85 percent of timeshare buyers come to feel remorse about it, according to research. “People go off on these vacations and then start having some cocktails and never want the vacation to end,” says Couch-Friedman. Free booze or spa treatments act as enticements to tour the timeshare, where high-pressure sales tactics push you to put your money down, creating a recipe for bad decision-making. “They sign the contract and then reality sets in once they get home,” says Couch-Friedman. “It’s a tale I’ve heard 1,000 times.” Skip the sales pitch altogether when you’re on vacation, no matter how appealing the perks.
Currency exchange fees
Those oh-so-convenient storefront currency exchanges you’ll find in foreign destinations likely will charge a hefty premium for giving you foreign currency—and will probably not give you a good exchange rate, either. Instead, plan to use a credit card for most purchases (minimize the cost with a card that doesn’t charge foreign exchange rates), or visit well-known banks to exchange money or use ATMs.
Free vacation offers
There’s no such thing as a free lunch—or a free vacation offer. Unless you specifically entered a travel sweepstakes, no one is giving you a free luxury trip. The Federal Trade Commission warns consumers of these schemes, and if a travel company offers you a “free trip” if you provide your credit card info or pay fees, you’re probably being duped. No matter how tempting, it’s probably best to just say “no.” Find out how to avoid other hotel booking scams.
Some tourists get taken for a ride—literally. The cabbie might take a roundabout path to the destination to rack up additional fare, claim the fare was way higher than the originally quoted price, or have a meter that seems to run in overdrive. Fortunately, technology can be your friend to help you avoid fraud. You can use Google Maps or other routing apps to find the shortest route, and make sure your cab driver sticks to it. Record a video of you and your driver discussing the rate so you have proof of the exchange if things get sketchy on the other end. And of course, using licensed cabs could help reduce the chances that you get scammed. But even apps can’t always be trusted—this is the Uber scam you need to watch out for.
In almost every major tourist destination across the world, you’ll run into people aggressively pushing their wares. You’ll find people under the Eiffel Tower placing a friendship bracelet on your wrist, then trying to charge you for it; sellers pushing pricey roses for your mate (and making you feel like a chump for not buying one); and the faux monks in many major tourist areas offering medallions and pressing for big donations to their temples. The trick to keeping your wallet closed: Don’t engage. Walk quickly away when someone tries to “give” you something for free. Learn how to avoid the 10 biggest ways you waste money on vacation.