If you’re planning to go on vacation this summer, make sure you take a few extra precautions so that you don’t get scammed. According to the National Fraud Information Center, the average loss due to fraud in 2004 was $803 per incident. Travel scams are the second most reported fraud after online auctions.
Here are some of the most common travel scams that catch consumers and what you should watch out for in order to protect yourself.
Travel scam #1: $299 per person for all-inclusive trip to Mexico or Florida
The fax comes in and it sounds too good to be true — a trip to Mexico or Florida including airfare, hotel and transfers for only $99, $199, or perhaps $299 per person. What happens when you call to book the trip? Nothing will be available on the dates you want at the magic price point. But for another $400 or more, you can get the hotel you want, the dates you want –â€œ well, you get the picture.
Watch out for: extra fees, upgrade charges, sales pressure tactics
Travel scam #2: Free vacation to Florida or Arizona
What’s better than paying $299 for a trip to a fabulous resort destination? What about paying nothing at all? Isn’t free better? Not really. The kicker behind these so-called “free” vacations is a tough sales presentation for timeshares.
Think you’re tough enough to withstand the pressure? A friend of mine, a high-powered attorney who lives in Mexico, succumbed to a timeshare presentation and now owns two weeks a year at a building in Orlando, Florida. The worst part about timeshares is they are virtually impossible to get rid of once you buy one. So you’re stuck paying the maintenance fee forever.
Watch out for: timeshare sales presentation
Travel scam #3: Discount travel clubs
Want to improve your cash flow each month? Start a travel club. An honest travel club will be started by someone with loads of experience in the travel industry. The dishonest ones are run by companies out to make a fast buck but aren’t offering anything real for the cash.
The concept behind a travel club is that you pay a few dollars, get a newsletter, and then get the opportunity to sign up for unique trips or specially discounted trips. But if your travel club is asking for more than a few bucks, it could be a scam.
Watch out for: huge “initiation” fees, overpriced or substandard trips, and newsletter. No real deals here.
Travel scam #4: Identity theft
Unfortunately, identity theft has touched us all. So far in 2005, nearly 50 million people have had their personal information compromised. Now, complaints are rising about identity theft stemming from things we do while on vacation or traveling for business.
Hotel rooms seem to be the focus of some complaints. Take care not to leave any personal information lying around your hotel room, whether it is receipts, credit cards or passports, personal computers (unless they are heavily password protected), or other detailed information. Use the hotel room safe. If your room doesn’t have a safe, ask the hotel if it provides one elsewhere.
Watch out for: don’t leave personal information lying around; use hotel safe in room; password protect computer;
What can you do to protect yourself?
According to the U.S. Department of Consumer Affairs, there are some ways to protect yourself:
Beware of travel companies that misrepresent information about booking and travel costs.
Remember the old maxim: if it sounds too good to be true — it is.
Wherever you are, don’t let anyone take your credit card out of your sight, not even for a minute. The latest rage in Europe is a credit card machine that can be brought to your table.
Make sure you ask for, and read, all travel brochures, flyers, and any printed information about a package trip before you sign on the dotted line.
Do all the background research you can. The Internet will be especially helpful in looking for people who have had poor experiences and are vocal about it.
Make sure you check out the travel company at Better Business Bureau (www.bbbonline.org).
If someone is pressuring you, or tells you you’ll “lose the trip if you don’t act now,” hang up.
If someone calls you on the phone and tells you about a special deal too good to pass up, take 10 seconds and think about why the salesperson on the phone isn’t offering the deal to his or her mother.
Make sure you receive paperwork that includes the “final” or “total” price of a deal or package. Keep all of your paperwork until you’re back from the trip, safe and sound.
You can get more information at the Federal Trade Commission, www.ftc.gov.
Need personal finance advice or real estate advice? Send your questions to Ilyce Glink: www.ThinkGlink.com