After years of travel restrictions, most people are raring to hit a departure gate to some exotic destination. But schemers are using the internet to defraud people who are so eager to get away that they suspend their good judgment and fall for fake websites, emails, texts, and adverts on social media.
Travel scams are becoming more common, and according to some reports, cost of living concerns is making us so eager for bargains that one in three holidaymakers is getting scammed. Some lose thousands of dollars before they’ve even hauled their suitcases from storage.
So how can you avoid getting duped by holiday booking scams? Let’s look at a few ways to uncover red flags while you’re booking your long-awaited trip.
What Are Common Scams During The Holiday Season?
Travel scams trigger your instincts to get a good deal, so scammers usually kick off with false advertising.
- Non-existent holiday accommodation: Fake websites and fake adverts on social media.
- Fake special interest trips: People love exclusive events and pay more for seats if there’s limited availability. Criminals often put together fake package deals for sporting, political, entertainment, or religious events.
- Holiday clubs or timeshare slots: Fraudsters sometimes come up with hard-luck stories to explain why they’re privately selling an exclusive vacation property time slot.
- Scammers love phishing emails. An old trick is to use the logo of a well-known brand to instill a sense of trust. They might send you a link to redeem a limited special offer, but when you click on the link, it takes you to a fake website where they steal your login or credit card details and use it to hack your accounts.
What Are Common Red Flags For Travel Bookings?
If you see an ad for an expensive item at an unbelievable price, go get your magnifying glass because that’s a big red flag. Another red flag is if you feel pressure to pay quickly before you lose the deal.
- Can you only pay them via a special mobile phone app? Phony banking apps can steal your banking details and infect your phone with malware.
- Are they asking you to do a wire transfer to a foreign “agent” or address? You’ll have no recourse if things go wrong.
- Are they urging you to keep the transaction a secret from your bank?
- Do you have to buy gift cards from the Play Store to pay for a holiday flat in Paris?
- Do they expect you to complete a form with questions about your home address, work, Social Security number, or bank details?
Just Don’t Click, Rick
Scammers nowadays use AI to design their phishing messages, and they’re experts at instilling a fear of missing out (FOMO) to get you to act fast before you lose out. Think before you click, or you might be left stranded in a dark alley in a strange city with nowhere to stay.
- If you receive an email with a link, ignore the link and go directly to the source. Here’s how to check the identity of the email sender: right-click on the name of the sender, copy the email address, then create a new email and paste the sender’s address into the new email’s address line. If the email address is from a different domain, you’ve just uncovered a scam!
- You can also set up your email client to display messages in plain text rather than HTML. It displays the full link, so you can check it for URL redirection.
What Can You Do To Protect Yourself From Holiday Scams?
To start with, you should always protect your credit card details and other sensitive data while shopping online. A VPN encrypts your internet traffic to keep hackers from stealing data in transit, so you should use it every time you use the internet.
- Use an advanced VPN with antivirus features and URL checking. It blocks spam and malicious links and is highly effective at combating holiday scams.
- Do independent research every time you use a company you haven’t used before. Google the company and read the feedback on trustworthy consumer websites.
- Research the company like a local would do. Use your VPN to change your location or learn how to change location in Google Chrome. Then use the “search near me” feature to see if that cheap agency or holiday flat is registered and mapped.
- Fake websites list spectacular deals and then pile on the pressure to get you to act quickly. Unsuspecting shoppers could accidentally click on a link that infects their device with malware or takes them to an unsafe website.
- Beware adverts on social media. Social media platforms are being bombarded by scammers and they admit that they cannot moderate everything. They also don’t offer any consumer protection for deals done via their platforms.
- Check that the domain belongs to a reputable website or company. Remember the old adage: if something seems to be too good to be true, it probably is.
- All established agencies and businesses have access to legitimate payment processing platforms like Mastercard, Paypal, or Swipe, which offer some consumer protection. Even small businesses can easily register and use their services. Therefore, be careful if asked to make a direct bank transfer. If something goes wrong, you’ll have no way to get your money back.
- Always check the paperwork. It’s quite easy to lure victims with flashy ads or websites, but some scammers neglect the secondary steps. Any legitimate company will be keen to provide you with terms and conditions and a formal booking summary before you make payment. If these are missing, or it looks like inappropriate boiler plate stuff, look a little closer.
- You should also receive a proper invoice, receipts, and booking confirmation when you’ve paid. If you don’t receive anything, raise the alarm immediately.
Be Careful – But You Deserve That Vacation
Of course, it is still possible to get a great deal without paying a premium, and not all bargains are dangerous. Just be aware that there are plenty of scammers out there, and don’t give them the opportunity to ruin your vacation. Make 100% sure you understand the offer and check that the host or agency is genuine before you part with any money.