Recently the Kansas City Star published an article detailing a travel scam, reaching from California to Georgia, which involved discounted airfare sold fraudulently using stolen credit cards. In light of this most recent scam, we wanted to share some tips on how to avoid other types of travel scams.
PAY NOW, TRAVEL LATER … MAYBE
If you have been offered a great bargain on a cruise or resort vacation, but you cannot seem to get all the details unless you pay the company first, you may be dealing with a travel scam.
Typically, scam operators won’t give you full and complete information in writing until after you’ve given them a credit card number, certified check or money order. Once you do get further information, there will be restrictions and conditions which may make it more expensive, or even impossible, to take your trip.
While getting a refund is sometimes possible, it’s better to avoid paying anything in the first place. While there is the remote chance that you might miss a legitimate deal, chances are you will save yourself time and money in the long run.
To help avoid being a victim of a travel scam, here are some tips on how to evaluate questionable travel offers:
- Be skeptical. Be extremely skeptical about unsolicited e-mail, postcard and phone solicitations saying you’ve been selected to receive a fabulous vacation or anything free, or for amounts that are unrealistically discounted. Be especially wary of firms requiring you to wait at least 60 days to take your trip. Also question when payments are requied in cash, eliminating protections you receive when paying by credit card.
- Be vigilant. Some offers might sound great on the surface, but be sure to read the fine-print. Certain offers impose so many requirements and restrictions, such as black-out dates and companion fees, that you will either never have the chance to take the trip or you will end up paying more than had you made the arrangements with a legitimate travel agent
- Be cautious. Never give out your credit card number unless you initiate the transaction and you are confident about the company with which you are doing business.
- Get the facts. You should receive complete details in writing about any trip prior to payment. These details should include the total price; cancellation and change penalties, if any; and specific information about all components of the package.
- Question travel clubs. Not all travel clubs are scams, but make sure that what is offered can be delivered (otherwise, refer back to tip number one).
- Who will charge your credit card. There are legitimate situations where your travel agent will need to charge your credit card. But before moving forward with a booking, ask who will charge your credit card (the travel agency, cruise line, etc.). Ask why if the travel agent will be charging your card (for example, if the trip is a customized group or a large specialized group cruise, the supplier may require that the agency pay only by agency check and not individual passenger credit cards).
- Know where you stand. If you insist on replying to an e-mail or calling a 900-number in response to a travel solicitation, understand the charges and know the risks.
- Know when to run. Know when to run in the opposite direction. High-pressure sales presentations that don’t allow you time to evaluate the offer, or which require that you disclose your income are red flags to be heeded.
- Protect yourself. Always pay with a credit card if possible. Even legitimate companies can go out of business. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, credit card customers have the right to refuse paying for charges for services not rendered.
If you think you’ve been scammed, contact your local Better Business Bureau, your local or state Consumer Affairs Office, or state attorney general’s office for information and assistance.
SPORTS TRAVEL PACKAGES
Often you will find advertisements for travel packages to major sporting events, like the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the Daytona 500 or the World Series. Many of these offers are legitimate, but there have been instances in the past where consumers have been scammed by unscrupulous vendors who never had tickets to the event.
“Every year, we hear reports of sports fans whose travel plans were ruined by a questionable organization with an offer that sounded too good to be true,” said ASTA President and Chair, Chris Russo CTC. “A good travel agent knows which questions to ask and what to look for in a legitimate sports travel package. Many people aren’t aware, for instance, that under the U.S. government’s ‘Truth in Ticketing’ rules, a tour operator advertising a Super Bowl travel package that includes a flight and game tickets must have the game tickets in hand or have a written contract for the tickets before they can even advertise.”
Before you buy a sports travel package, be sure to carefully read the tour brochure and any other solicitation material and pay by credit card, where possible, so you can be protected under federal fair credit practice laws.
AGENT CREDENTIALS FROM ‘CARD MILLS’
Beware of offers from companies that sell questionable travel agent credentials. Consumers may be led to believe that such cards allow them to travel at free or reduced rates.
Organizations making these offers are known throughout the travel industry as “card mills” because they routinely offer credentials by the thousands in the form of an identification card that is sold for a significant fee. In turn, these cards would presumably be accepted by every segment of the travel industry. Many suppliers of travel, however, do not accept them.
For more information, see What Consumers and Consumer Protection Agencies Should Know About Travel Industry Card Mills by the American Society of Travel Agents.