Before heading on your dream vacation, discover the four most common vacation scams and how to avoid them.
1. The bogus prize vacation
In this scam, you’ll receive a notification via snail mail, phone call or email, that you’re the lucky winner of an absolutely free vacation stay. You’ll eagerly start planning your trip, only to find that you’re constantly asked to pay various “prize fees,” “taxes,” or “reservation deposits” as the departure date draws near. SPOILER ALERT: Your “free” vacation isn’t really free at all!
You might get suspicious and pull out. Or, you might be too deeply caught in the trap and only realize that, when you arrive at your destination, you’ve been conned. The vacation destination will either not exist at all, or be so substandard that you’ll need a vacation from your vacation when you get back home.
2. The dream-priced rental
You’re scrolling through Airbnb, searching for that perfect vacation rental house when you suddenly strike gold. There it is! The rental you’ve been looking for at an unbelievable price!
You’ll contact the renter and begin making arrangements for your trip. The renter will offer you an even steeper discount if you pay them through a third-party processing site instead of Airbnb's website. Their likely preference is a wire transfer. 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 up front through Airbnb or another rental service, you will not have the same protection if you’re not using the site.
The problem starts when you arrive at your vacation spot — or try to do so. The address you’ve been given does not actually exist and the Instagram-worthy pictures you’ve been looking through belong to another renter. Sadly, you’re now out your money and have nowhere to stay during your vacation.
3. Phony “experiences”
Aside from vacation rentals, sites like Airbnb also encourage you to book “experiences,” or days out on the town with locals. Unfortunately, this platform has become a breeding ground for scammers who offer phony tours to eager vacationers. You might find yourself booking a tour or an experience, even paying for it, only to find out you’ve been scammed.
4. Travel-club membership with a catch
In these scams, devious travel companies work hard to persuade you to join their travel club with the promise of significant benefits and kickbacks, including dream vacation stays, discounted cruises and completely free getaways. Unfortunately, once you’ve joined the club, you’ll be charged high dues for perks that are so hard to access that they’re practically worthless. The discounted tickets will only be eligible for certain vacation dates and probably won't align with your own plans, and the “free” trip you were promised also comes with severe restrictions.
How to spot a vacation scam
Now that you know the many ways you can be conned while planning for or being on vacation, let’s take a moment to review the red flags that will clue you in to these scams.
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 expensive upfront fees or even the full amount before your vacation, run the other way and don’t look back.
Specific payment methods. Similarly, if you’re asked to pay via wire transfer only, your creeper alert siren should be going off. According to the FTC, a demand for payment by wire transfer is the surest sign of a scam.
Vague details and absent reviews. When booking any kind of vacation, do your research. If your contact refuses to provide you with anything more than the most basic of details and you can’t find much info online, you’re likely looking at a bogus vacation.
Prices that are too good to be true. 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.
Pressure tactics. If you’re urged to sign on a vacation package quickly or risk losing out on the deal, opt-out. Scams succeed with speed.
Scammers never go on vacation. Keep your guard up when planning your getaway and stay safe!
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