As you dream of summer fun, the Better Business Bureau is reminding consumers of vacation scams that can turn a dream vacation into a nightmare.
Whether it is by phone, email, or in an ad posted online, vacation rental scams come in all shapes and sizes. Often, scammers will lure in victims with images from real properties to make their scams appear legitimate. Vacation seekers searching for a rental in a desirable destination are tempted by the attractive rental that appears to be renting at a very low price. After contacting the “owner” (who is actually a scam artist), victims are told to put a “deposit” down on the rental. Typically, it is requested that the deposit be sent via wire transfer. When the vacationer arrives at the property, they find that it either does not exist, that the condition has been misrepresented, or that it was never available for rent in the first place. Efforts to get the deposit back usually fail.
In 2014, your BBB received nearly 400 complaints against travel deals and vacation rentals. Many of the complaints were from consumers who thought they were getting free airline tickets, a great deal, or a vacation rental that turned out to be too-good-to-be-true.
The BBB has tips for avoiding vacation scams:
Don't believe everything that you see. The site may have the logo or design of a legitimate hotel or booking site, but that can be easily copied from the real website. When searching for a trustworthy vacation rental, be sure to visit legitimate websites that are well-known. Many businesses specializing in vacation rentals have employees who are constantly looking out for scammers and can help you validate whether a listing is legitimate or not. Check out the company on bbb.org to see what others are saying.
Get everything in writing. Before providing any form of payment, get everything in writing. Make sure all verbal agreements are also provided in writing. Review all terms and conditions, taxes and fees, and cancellation policies.
Don’t pay upfront. Never pay upfront, or with a wire transfer or prepaid debit card for any vacation package or rental. Use a credit card or PayPal in case the charges need to be disputed.
Verify reservations. Follow-up directly with the airline, rental car company, hotel and/or cruise line to confirm arrangements have actually been made to your specifications. It may even be a good idea to search the web for the address of the vacation rental property or, if renting a home or condominium for a week, the place where you will be picking up the keys. Unfortunately, in some situations, victims of travel scams have discovered that reservations were never made and were provided fake confirmation numbers.
Look out for fake contact info. Some consumers report calling the 1-800 number posted on a scam hotel booking site to confirm its legitimacy. Scammers simply impersonated the front desk of the hotel.
Double check the URLs. Scammers pick URLs that look very similar to those of legitimate sites. Always be sure to double check the URL before making a purchase. Be wary of sites that have the brand name as a subdomain of another URL (i.e. brandname.scamwebsite.com), part of a longer URL (i.e. companynamebooking.com) or use an unconventional top level domain (brandwebsite.net or brandwebsite.co)
Look for a secure connection. Make sure your personal information is being transmitted securely by ensuring the web address starts with "HTTPS" and has a lock icon.
Watch for too-good-to-be-true deals. Be sure to comparison shop and be suspicious of a site that has prices significantly lower than those listed elsewhere.