Summertime scams target travelers
BY PHIL MULKINS World Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
7/13/11 at 3:14 AM
We're not safe from scam artists even while on vacation and in fact, "Scam artists are waiting and ready to lure cash from unsuspecting summer travelers," Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel warned in a June 29 consumer alert. He quoted the National Consumers League - tulsaworld.com/NCLnet - in naming common vacation scams.
Vacation rental scams: These pop-up in online advertisements: victims finding what seems to be attractive rentals in desirable destinations for low prices. Posted images of real properties (often pirated from real destinations) make offers seem legitimate and desirable. Victims call the phone numbers and are asked for deposits, usually by wire transfer, and when they arrive they find the property either doesn't exist or the renter does not own the site and had no authority to rent it. Result: Vacation ruined, deposit in the wind.
Timeshare purchase scams: Victims are lured, by promises of valuable gifts, to high-pressure timeshare resort sales pitches. They must pay fees for delivery or processing, and when gifts arrive - if ever - they are less valuable than originally represented.
High-pressure timeshare offers: These usually start with offers of free weekends at timeshare resorts but come at a cost. The vacationer must endure high-pressure sales presentations designed to wear them down and saddle them with timeshare interests they neither want nor can afford.
Fraudulent vacation packages: Victims are lured by advertisements for deeply discounted vacation packages. After deposits are paid, victims find package values have been grossly misrepresented or that significant additional fees must be paid at the destination to take advantage of the deal. Efforts to recover deposits are unsuccessful.
Airfare scams: Victims are attracted by promises of discounted or even free airfares. All that is required to get cheap or free tickets is an agreement to stay at a particular resort and book the lodging through a particular seller. Later the consumer learns that the lodging cost is much more than what the consumer could have booked on his or her own.
Group travel scams: Often school groups respond to offers of discounted group travel packages. Usually a substantial deposit is required to book the travel, and the booking agency turns out to be fraudulent and disappears with the deposit money.
Wise up: Beware of unsolicited emails or phone calls offering hard-to-believe deals on travel to desirable locations. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. When contacting a legitimate travel agency or vacation planning service, get all the details about the trip in writing. Beware of vague promises on five-star resorts or luxury cruises at cut-rate prices. Don't believe you've won a free vacation, because these are often ploys to get your credit card numbers. Never pay to collect a "prize."
Travel agents: Check travel companies before giving any money or information, and ensure it is registered with the American Society of Travel Agents - tulsaworld.com/ASTA - or call 703-739-2782 or write ASTA, 1101 King Street STE 200, Alexandria, VA 22314.
'Free' offers likely to be filled with fees and fraud
The Federal Trade Commission says if you've ever signed up to win a "free trip" at a fair, trade show or restaurant you'll get a phone call, a letter, an unsolicited fax, an email or a postcard that declares, "You've won a dream vacation!" But beware: It's really a nightmare vacation. See tulsaworld.com/FTCtravelfraud
Won zip: It's likely you didn't "win" anything and it isn't really "free." The bargain-price luxury travel package you're offered on the phone or Internet will not fit your idea of luxury. Some travel opportunities included in such offers are legitimate, but most are scams. The word "offer" is a clue for "hidden charges."
Avoiding travel scams: Verify and clarify. Call to verify your reservations and arrangements. Get all the details behind vague promises that you'll be staying at a five-star resort or sailing on a luxury cruise ship. When you have the names, addresses and phone numbers of airlines, car rental companies and hotels, confirm all arrangements with each vendor yourself.
Put it on paper: Get your vacation details in writing and a copy of the company's cancellation and refund policies. Ask "What if ... ?" such and such happens. Consider whether some form of "trip cancellation insurance" is appropriate.
Use credit card: Gain the upper hand by putting the trip on your credit card. If you don't get what you paid for, dispute the charges with your credit card company. Don't give your account number to any business until you've verified it is reputable.
Travel club flub: Ask questions before joining a travel club. Sometimes, a "free trial" membership can result in unauthorized charges to your credit card. Find out what you'll get for your money and how you can cancel, the FTC says.
Free vacation: Scam artists often tell you you've won a "free" vacation but then say they need your credit card number for "verification." Don't do it. Legitimate promotions never ask you to pay for prizes or need to verify anything with your credit card.
Telemarketing travel fraud: See the FTC's warning on this at tulsaworld.com/FTCtelemarkettravel and the FTC Consumer Alert: "Travel tips: how to gear up for a great trip" is at tulsaworld.com/FTCTravelTips
Tulsa World consumer writer Phil Mulkins wants to know which topics interest you most. Call 918-699-8888, email your interest to firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail it to Tulsa World Consumer, PO Box 1770, Tulsa, OK 74102-1770.
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