Now that spring is officially here and the warm weather is slowly arriving, it’s tempting to take a mental vacation by planning a trip. But there’s nothing fun about being the victim of a travel scam; avoiding these scams starts when you first plan your trip and doesn’t end until you’re home, safe and sound.
Stage One: Planning
As soon as you type “plan a trip” into any search engine, the work of protecting yourself begins. Your screen will fill up with legitimate travel offers, but can also include some major scams. Avoid the temptation to click on any flashy pop ups or sidebar ads that promise you unbelievable deals. First, the deals may actually be too good to be true, but clicking through to get to those websites can actually lead to installing malicious software on your computer. If the ad does take you to a travel website, you could still be at risk from other types of bait-and-switch scams. That’s why it’s important to only plan your vacation with reputable businesses.
Stage Two: HTTPS
If you go to any website that will require you to enter your sensitive personal data, your payment details, or both, it’s important to make sure it’s a secure website. Look for the HTTPS designation in the web address. The S means it’s a secure site, but seeing only HTTP can mean your information is not protected. Remember that some sites might ask for way more information than they need (like a Social Security number or your checking account number), so avoid any website that gets too personal.
Stage Three: Transportation and Lodging
For most people, figuring out how you’re going to get to your destination is the first step in actually going. After all, you have to know how much the flight, train, or bus will cost in order to go there. But as with many web “deals,” you have to do your homework. This is one of those times that it’s crucial to read the fine print, and to understand what you’re getting for your fees. Be wary of paying for “travel insurance” that does nothing more than help you get the exact refund you’re already entitled to from the airline.
You’ve got to sleep some time, and scammers know that. That’s why fraud and scams are so common in booking your accommodations. There are countless ways that accommodations scams can come back to haunt you. It could be turning your credit card information over to a fake company, paying upfront for a property that doesn’t exist, paying for a reservation at a very real location only to find out the guy who sold you the reservation doesn’t even work there…the list goes on. One of the most annoying property scams is the “three nights in the Bahamas for $99!” offers that you’ll find online; they’re upsetting because they’re actually legitimate properties with low prices, but the catch is in the transportation. In order to get that amazing rate, you have to purchase your transportation from them as well, and you end up paying triple what it would have cost you.
Stage Four: Enjoying Your Stay
While you’re on vacation—whether it’s on the other side of the country or the other side of the world—be on guard for scams that can impact your funds, your identity, and even your safety or liberty. Spend some time educating yourself about specific crimes that have been reported in that destination, as well as more general scams that can affect all travelers. Be watchful of things like the fake front desk call, in which someone calls your room and states that you need to verify your credit card number, or fake restaurant flyers slipped under your door can also steal your financial information. If you’re ever told that you’ve broken some law and must pay a fine, be sure to call the police or even the US consulate if you’re abroad.
Stage Five: Home Again
Once you’re back home, it’s important that you keep up with any charges on your credit cards that you may have incurred while you were away. If you thought to keep up with your receipts during your trip, that’s even better. Watch out for any suspicious account activity, which could indicate that your credit card was stolen or copied while you were gone, and request a credit report after you get back home. Look it over carefully for any signs that someone has stolen your identity.
Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.