As we get back to travelling it means that travel scams have unfortunately returned as well. With Canadians eager to get going, travellers are more vulnerable and scammers are more sophisticated. RoboKiller, an app that blocks spam calls and text messages, estimates an 80% increase in the number of unsolicited telemarketing calls related to travel in 2021. Additionally, RoboKiller saw a 300% increase in unsolicited text messages announcing free vacations. Online travel scams have always been something to watch out for, so we’ve put together a short article to help you stay safe, save money and outsmart the scammers.
“Free” Vacation Scams
If it sounds too good to be true, it often is. If you receive a phone call, email, or postcard telling you that you’ve won a free vacation and just need to pay taxes and fees – just say no. If you never entered a contest through any company, then it’s highly unlikely you were “randomly” selected as the winner.
If the deal is coming from a legitimate travel company, be sure to look up the information and details on the official company website. Don’t use the contact information that was sent to you, which could be redirected to a scammer. You should also look out for free vacation giveaways that ask you to pay services, taxes or fees with prepaid credit cards, debit cards or gift cards. These payment methods make it harder to track transactions and even harder to get back stolen funds.
Stay alert for scam travel sites. These sites often will purchase tickets from legitimate sites (like Flighthub.com) and charge you exorbitant imaginary fees separately. You also risk further fraudulent charges by giving your card details to a deceptive site that does not securely store your payment information. There are a few things you can look out for:
Websites with obvious spelling and grammatical errors can be the easiest indicator of a not-so-trustworthy site. Mistakes like “We searched 1000s cheapest flight routes.”, “worried-free service”, “search your dream flight at best prices” and other sentences that seem just slightly off. Additionally, websites may have been poorly translated from other languages, so sentences could sound bizarre or even contain sporadic words in other languages.
Legitimate travel sites will have a presence on major comparison sites such as Kayak or Tripadvisor.
Valid physical address and email address
Any email correspondence will come from a verifiable email address that corresponds to your booking company. Physical addresses should also be valid with postal/zip codes matching the actual city.
Fees such as service fees or seat fees should be clearly stated on their site. Some sites will offer additional voluntary options such as a seat upgrade or insurance. These are common ad-ons but it should be clear to the customer how much they will be charged and that they are choosing to pay a fee for these bonus items. Fuel charges are not a normal fee a customer would be asked to pay. Websites should have detailed information about potential fees outlined in their Terms and Conditions.
Vacation Rental Scams
Vacation rentals have become more and more popular over the last few years. As a general rule, stick to verified and well-known websites such as Airbnb or VRBO. These sites mean that if your host turns out to be a not-so-great person you can dispute any issues with the booking platform directly. Be sure to read reviews and all the policies associated with the booking. Common vacation rental scams can involve everything from fake listings to inaccurate listings, or renters asking for payment outside of the booking website.
Irregular Forms of Payment
A huge red flag that you are dealing with a fraudulent company is if you are asked. Some scam operations will answer a call from a potential traveller and refer to themselves as a “reservations department” affiliated with the booking company. If they ask you to pay astronomical fees without explanation and ask for credit card information, that is a sure sign of something fishy. Furthermore, if you are calling about an existing booking, you will never be asked to purchase gift cards in order to authorize changes to your booking such as cancellations or itinerary changes.
Customs and Travel Regulations
Another place to watch out for illegitimate websites is when researching customs information such as TSA PreCheck, Global Entry or general travel regulations. These fake sites often look just like the government ones but are set up to steal your personal information and ultimately your money. The easiest way to identify these websites is to check if the URL ends in “.gov”, indicating an official government website.
It can seem scary when faced with all this information at once, but the most important way to avoid scams or fraud is to be vigilant, use common sense and to ensure you are using official, verified platforms.