Most travelers love a deal that extends their budget — whether it is a cheap flight, discounted hotel room, or all-inclusive package tour. Unfortunately, sophisticated scammers are only too happy to profit from bargain hunters. When planning your next trip, be particularly wary of travel vouchers selling at a deep discount.
Fake that seems real
In one common scheme, criminals purchase vouchers from travel companies using stolen credit card numbers, then sell the vouchers online or by phone to would-be travelers. Between the initial purchase and subsequent resale, the travel company is alerted to the fraud. And before the traveler can use the voucher, the company inactivates it, leaving the traveler with a worthless document.
Voucher scammers often use email to hook people with links that may infect their computers with malware. They also may set up fake websites that look real to lend legitimacy to their ‘products.’ For example, a site might prominently feature logos of major airlines and hotel chains. Of course, the presence of a logo does not mean that the business is an authorized reseller of travel products.
As with other forms of consumer fraud, you can protect yourself from voucher scams by exercising skepticism. If a deal appears too good to be true, in all likelihood, it is. In fact, the larger the discount and more compelling the package, the less likely the offering is aboveboard. Also be sure to:
Take time to evaluate. Fraud perpetrators commonly try to instill a sense of urgency in their ‘marks.’ Be particularly wary of offers with an expiration date or bonus (such as upgrades) if you purchase a flight or hotel room immediately.
Pay attention to details. If a travel website contains spelling, grammatical errors, or awkwardly worded language, it may indicate that the site is located overseas — where most of these scams originate. Another suspicious sign is if you talk to a travel company over the phone and they lack professionalism or engage in high-pressure sales tactics.
Research reputation. Before entering into a travel transaction, find out what out what other travelers have to say about the company. If you cannot find customer reviews — or you discover serious complaints — you should reconsider the deal.
Read the small print. Before you agree to anything, read the company’s policies regarding cancellation or modification of travel plans. Consider walking away if you have trouble locating those policies or you cannot understand them and, when asked, customer service reps cannot explain them.
There is another important way to protect yourself from travel voucher fraud: use a credit (not a debit) card. Although credit and debit cards process transactions using the same networks, credit card companies offer greater security and fraud protection.