Scam Alert: Free Hotel Stays
Beware the caller bearing gifts… Consumers have reported a recent phone scam in which the caller offers you a free stay at a Marriott resort—although any major-name hotel brand could be used instead—and then launches into a slick sales pitch. But be warned, this one seems to be another in a long line of growing travel scams.
With cold weather firmly settling around us, this kind of scam becomes more and more enticing. Fraudsters know they only have to dangle the possibility of sun swept beaches and palm trees to get winter-weary victims’ attention. Travel scams like this one can take many different forms:
- “You’re a winner in our sweepstakes!” – This one is a very interesting phishing scam, and it gets its name from scammers casting their nets far and wide in hopes of catching one or two victims. By promising you that you’ve already won a luxury vacation to some exotic locale, you’re more likely to hand over things like your identifying information, your credit card number to “hold” your reservation, or more. Remember the old adage about something for nothing: no one is going to call you to give you a prize for a contest you didn’t enter. If you receive this kind of call, hang up immediately.
- “Three days, two nights in the Bahamas for $99!” – Watch out for the too-good-to-be-true specials. People still fall for these because it is actually possible to score incredible travel deals, especially online, but companies don’t actually email those out to the general public. They certainly don’t call you on the phone with these offers. There are whole books that tell you how to find the best travel deals and what insider information you need in order to locate them; if anyone calls you out of the blue with this offer, it’s probably a scam. HOW does a scammer benefit from this one? Typically, the hotel stay may actually cost you only $99, but it’s because the air travel, which you’re required to book through them in order to claim this deal, is about triple what it would cost you to book the flight on your own. They’ll have more than made up the difference by eating some of the price of the hotel stay, and then still make a tidy profit.
- “Stay on the line to discover how you can enjoy seven nights in our luxury hotel!” – When you receive a call with this kind of offer, it’s typically just a ploy to get you to stay on the line and endure the entire sales pitch. While the sales pitches themselves may or may not be on the up-and-up—often requiring outrageous fees in exchange for the trip—be especially careful if this offer comes to you online.
Consumers have already reported a number of scams to the Better Business Bureau that involve the multi-offer online sales pitch. You click the ad for the deluxe hotel stay, but in order to make your reservation you must first click through page after page after page of other offers. Every time you click “No thanks” at the bottom of the screen, it’s actually adding the item to your shopping cart. When you finally use your credit card to pay for your hotel stay, you’ve also paid for all those other items, and maybe even signed up for a monthly subscription or two. Any efforts to cancel those items or halt your subscription are met with frustration and headaches.
Finally, remember that travel scams are some of the oldest around. From arriving at your resort to discover it’s still just a giant sand dune to showing up for your vacation to find out they’ve never heard of you, there are countless ways a fraudster can take your money. The internet has only made it easier, since they now have the free tools to create flashy websites filled with gorgeous photos; they also know there’s a level of anonymity that they didn’t have before. Keep these travel deals at arm’s length, and remember to only work with reputable travel companies or websites when booking your next getaway.