Vacation scams to watch out for this summer

Financial Tip Friday | 05/21/21
Boogie

Before packing a suitcase for your dream vacation, check out our list of four common vacation scams and learn how to avoid them.

1. The bogus prize

In this scam, you’ll get a notification that you’re the lucky winner of a free vacation. You’ll start planning your trip only to find you’re constantly asked to pay various “prize fees,” “taxes” or “deposits” as the departure date approaches. Your “free” vacation isn’t free at all!

You might get suspicious and back out, or you might go ahead with your plans and realize you’ve been conned when you arrive. The vacation destination will either not exist or be so substandard you’ll need a vacation from your vacation when it’s all over.

2. The dream-priced rental

You’re searching for that perfect vacation rental on Airbnb or VRBO and there it is! The rental you’ve been looking for – and at a dream price!

You’ll contact the renter who offers an even steeper discount if you pay through a third-party processing site like Venmo or CashApp instead of Airbnb. You’ll then be asked to pay a deposit or even the full price of the rental before you arrive. While it’s completely expected to pay upfront through Airbnb or another rental service, you’ll not have the same protection if you’re not using the site.

The problem starts when you get to your vacation spot and learn that the address you’ve been given does not actually exist.

3. Phony “experiences”

Sites like Airbnb allow you to book “experiences,” or days out on the town with locals. This platform has become a breeding ground for scammers. You might book an exciting ghost walk or behind-the-scenes tour, pay for it and find out too late that the adventure is completely bogus.

4. Travel-club membership with a catch

In these travel-club scams, unscrupulous travel companies persuade you to join their club with the promise of benefits and discounts. Unfortunately, once you’ve joined, you’ll be charged high dues for perks and discounts that are so hard to access, they’re practically worthless.

Red flags

Let’s take a moment to review the red flags that’ll clue you in to these scams.

A. Upfront fees. Whether it’s a vacation rental, a tourist experience or a sweepstakes prize, you should not have to pay more than a small deposit before your arrival. If you’re asked to pay steep upfront fees or even the full amount before your vacation, run the other way and don’t look back.

B. Specific payment methods. If you’re asked to pay via wire transfer only, you can be sure you’re looking at a scam. According to the Federal Trade Commission, a demand for payment by wire transfer is the surest sign of a scam.

C. Skimpy details. When booking any vacation, do your research. If your contact refuses to provide anything more than the most basic of details and you can’t find much info online, you’re likely looking at a bogus vacation.

D. Extremely low prices. Trust your instincts. If a vacation rental, experience or package is priced ridiculously low, do some digging. Google the travel company or the renter’s name with the words “scam” or “bogus” to see what results come up.

E. Pressure tactics. If you’re urged to register for a vacation package quickly or risk losing out on the deal, opt-out. Scams succeed with speed.

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