Vacation Scams - How to Spot Them
- Written by Michael Russell
Again, your mother was right. Actually, she was right twice. One, nothing in life is free and two, if sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
One of the biggest and longest running scams to date is the Vacation Fraud, where you or a loved one is told that they have won a free vacation package or a glamorous cruise getaway. If not totally "free", these "agents" say that they can get you that dream tour for a rock-bottom price. At this point, you, like many other law-abiding citizens start thinking "what could possibly go wrong?" A lot, apparently.
Let's just start with the obvious: you will not get a free vacation. Granted, there are rare packages out there from reputable travel agencies that may be free, but err on the side of caution. The most common travel and vacation scams include the following:
The Dubious Travel Agency Scam
You are called and told you are getting a free vacation package but you must pay "fees" to reserve this opportunity. Then after you pay these fees, the "travel agency" can no longer be found. Their phone line has been disconnected and there is no way you can get your money back. Another variation of this scam is telling you that you've been booked on a luxurious vacation trip verycheaply, but this is only for a "limited time". You are then asked to pay a "reservation fee" immediately (and this is usually a big amount) to assure your slot. It's only after payment that the "travel agent" tells you that your vacation dates are not available or, after some time, will tell you that the offer has already "expired". Then the "Agent" also disappears, along with your money.
Plane Tickets for Free
Here, they call you and say you have won two plane tickets to great spots like the Bahamas. What they're not saying is that you must book your hotel and buy your meals from the company that's giving away the tickets. If you stop and do the math before you accept this "free ticket" offer, you can easily calculate that the amount for food and accommodation easily covers the cost of a plane fare because prices have been so inflated.
The "Free Vacation"
You fly all the way to Hawaii or Mexico, ready to start your vacation, but you find out that you are booked in a small and dirty hostel with bad food. If you check out, they tell you that you void your return ticket. So, you can either stay in your bad hotel or pay a horribly inflated fee to get out of it so you can sleep in a decent hotel.
The Time Share Scam
You are given a free vacation, but before you enjoy it, you have to sit through a presentation from a timeshare salesman. Sometimes, you're not even told about the obligatory timeshare lecture before you reach your destination. Oftentimes, to get food tickets and accommodation, people have been forced to sit in through long lectures and end up being forced to sign contracts that are also fraudulent. In some cases, when the vacationers try to get away, they have been subjected to bullying and other unscrupulous tactics from these sales agents.
"Become a Travel Agent" Scam
Someone tells you that you're better off to be a travel agent because it saves you a lot of money in the long run. As a travel agent, they say, you get a lot of discounts and freebies while you're on holiday. The catch is, you have to pay them a "fee" to become an instant travel agent and when you become one, you realize you can't avail yourself of the discounts because your credentials are not recognized by any travel authority.
Fraudulent Vacation Discount Cards
You pay for a vacation card thinking it will make your vacation a little cheaper, but then you realize that the card has so many restrictions that you can't get the discounts you're entitled to. OR if you do get a discount, it's just taken off a "special price" and still comes down to the same price as everyone else is paying.
Protect yourself from these travel scams by following your gut instinct and being sceptical. Don't be afraid to say no and assert yourself when these "agents" become pushy. Never give your credit card number over the phone in the name of "reserving" your slot. If they give you a time limit, say you need to think about it; being hurried is usually a sign of a scam. Before accepting the package, go the distance - check the hotel, the airline, etc. - and make sure they are working with this promotion at the prices the agent says they are. Buy tickets and packages only from genuine agencies and in person, if possible and remember, offers from phone calls or spam email are more likely to be scams.