Avoid Online/Internet Travel Scams

The modus operandi of these scamsters has taken a professional hue on the Internet. Some have nifty websites that promise huge discounts in airfare and hotel rooms. Others are less subtle and blatantly fly by night operations that send emails offering fantastic discounts.
Professional or blatant, the result is a traveler /tourist finds the reality fails to match the offer and he is more or less screwed.
In fact AARP, a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization that helps people 50 and over improve the quality of their lives, reveals travel scams consistently rank near the top of complaints to the Federal Trade Commission and many state attorneys general offices. They say a consumers get bilked an average of nearly $500 per incident.   
Barring vigilance in transactions there is no other way one can identify the legitimate from the swindles.
Here are some tips to avoid Internet Travel Scams from Internet Fraud Watch:

  • Be skeptical of offers for "free" trips. Airlines and other well-known companies sometimes operate contests for travel prizes. However, there are also companies that offer "free" trips to try to lure people into buying their products or services. It's never "free" if you have to pay something.

  • Be cautious about unsolicited emails for travel.  They are often fraudulent. If you are familiar with the company that sent you the email and you don't want to receive further messages, send a reply asking to be removed from the email list. However, responding to unknown senders may simply verify that yours is a working email address and result in even more unwanted messages from strangers. The best approach may simply be to delete the email.

  • Know exactly what's included. A "free" or incredibly cheap trip may have hidden costs. For instance, the cruise may be free, but you have to pay to fly to the departure point and stay in a hotel at your own expense. Or you may have to endure a long, high-pressure sales pitch for a timeshare or travel club membership as part of the trip.

  • Realize that the deal may not be as good as you think. You may find that a travel offer requires you to make reservations through a specific company and that the costs are higher than they would be if you used your own travel agent or made the arrangements yourself. Or the offer may be valid only if you bring a companion along at full fare.

  • Be aware of restrictions. Often the best travel deals are only available for off-peak times, not during school vacations, holidays or other popular travel dates. You may find it hard to get the promised price for the dates that you want to travel, or there may be no space available on those dates at all. 

  • Confirm the arrangements. If transportation and hotel are included in the travel package, ask how to contact those companies and confirm with them directly that the reservations have been made.

  • Do your own travel research. It's easy to get information from a local travel agent and other sources such as newspapers, books, and the Internet. You may be able to get the trip you want for far less than the "bargain" price a company is offering. 

  • Pay with a credit card. Fraudulent travel operators take the money and run, and even legitimate companies can suddenly go out of business. Credit cards are the safest way to pay for online purchases because you can dispute the charges if you never get the services you were promised or the offer was misrepresented. Federal law limits your liability to $50 if someone makes unauthorized charges to your account, and most credit card issuers will remove them completely if you report the problem promptly. There are new technologies, such as "substitute" credit card numbers and password programs, that can offer extra measures of protection from someone else using your credit card. For more information about paying safely online, go to www.nclnet.org/shoppingonline and www.nclnet.org/essentials/security.html 

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