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As cybercrime rises, so do the scams and travel is not immune. In fact, with so much pent-up demand in the industry, prices are rising and so are the number of people who are spoofing websites in order to lure in the vulnerable.
Has anyone offered you free or nearly free trips recently? Rock-bottom deals in a market that is oversaturated with rising prices are tempting but most likely not legit.
Phone calls, emails and postcards with enticing travel offers look tempting, but a deal that's way under the value of a trip-like five nights in a hotel plus airfare to Maui for $200-means it's probably a scam," said Amy Nofziger, AARP anti-fraud expert.
Nofziger said the best way to avoid falling victim to these deals is to walk away if it seems to good to be true. She also points out one clear way to spot a fraud.
"If a company asks you to pay with a prepaid gift card instead of a credit card or debit card, it's a scam," Nofziger says. "Always work with a trusted travel agency or company that has a long, proven history of offering travel opportunities."
Rental cars are hard to come by in a post-pandemic travel landscape. So of course, deals that offer cars at affordable prices are to be met with some skepticism.
"Several travelers alerted AARP this spring to fake rental-car-company scams. Crooks set up phony customer service numbers online that look just like those of major rental-car companies," said Nofziger. "When you call, they take your money and personal information, then leave you stranded."
AARP has also reported fake sites selling TSA PreCheck and Global Entry programs.
"Travelers interested in enrolling in or renewing TSA PreCheck should start the process by going to the official government website, tsa.gov," she said.
Looking for a vacation rental? Watch out for fraudulent companies that are offering properties that are not real.
Keep all of your interactions with a vacation property's owners on the website of legitimate companies," Nofziger advised. "A request to take your conversation off the site is a sign of a likely scam. If a property has few reviews or seems too good to be true, search the address online, or check it on Google Maps."
Use a Travel Advisor
One way to avoid getting scammed is to use a reputable travel advisor to assist you with your vacation planning. Travel advisors are an advocate for travelers on many levels. They don't just re-book canceled flights and help get clients home when things go wrong.
Travel advisors help their customers avoid situations where they may get scammed and steer them clear of deals that are too good to be true. Good advisors provide their customers with peace of mind as well as a safe, healthy and seamless travel experience-especially during a pandemic.
The American Society of Travel Advisors has a database of verified advisors at TravelSense.org.
In Washington, the rise of these scams has even caught the eye of legislators and a new bill has recently been introduced in Congress by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Steven Daines, R-Mont. to protect consumers from this growing problem.
"As the pandemic comes to an end and people make plans to travel safely once again, we need to ensure consumers are protected from unfair and deceptive practices designed to target travelers," Klobuchar said in a statement to USA TODAY. "This bipartisan legislation will help protect consumers from travel scams and prevent fraudulent behavior in the travel and tourism industry moving forward."
Janeen Christoff caught the travel bug while living in London, England. After two years on the road, she settled in Los Angeles...
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