Original release date: May 24, 2019
As summer nears, many people will soon be taking vacations. When planning vacations, users should be aware of potential rental scams and “free” vacation ploys. Travelers should also keep in mind risks related to travelling with mobile devices.
Our friends at the Federal Trade Commission, though, have some advice to help make sure that your quest for rest and relaxation doesn’t lead you to a rental scam.
Here’s how it can work: you find a great house or apartment listed for rent on the Internet. The photos look great, and the rates are somewhere between very low and reasonable. You make contact with the person you think is the owner, book a date, and pre-pay some or all of your fee. In some cases, a fraudster may have just lifted the info and pictures from a real listing and re-posted them elsewhere. He changes the contact info so you come to him, not the owner, and now he’s making money.
In other cases, the fraudster posts a phantom listing—the rental doesn’t really exist. He promises all kinds of amenities, and you think you’ve just snagged a great option at a low price. All he has to do is get you to pay up before you figure things out.
Here’s how to protect yourself:
- Be wary if the owner asks you to pay by wire transfer. This is like sending cash—you likely will never get your money back if there’s a problem. Use a credit card.
- Watch out if the owner says he is overseas and wants you to send a deposit to a foreign bank. If you are traveling overseas, again, your best bet is to use a credit card.
- Consider only using a reputable travel website to book your stay. Look for sites that use secure payment portals and/or those that don’t release the payment to the owner until you’ve checked in.
- Use mapping apps—like Google maps or similar—to confirm that the property really exists.
Do some research — and then carefully read the details on travel offers.
- Look up travel companies, hotels, rentals and agents with the words “scam,” “review,” or “complaint.”
- Look for extra costs. Resort fees (also known as destination, facility and amenity fees) can add $50 or more to your nightly cost.
- Ask about taxes, which may be significant in many locations.
- Get a copy of the cancellation and refund policies before you pay.
- If you’re buying travel insurance, be sure the agency is licensed.
- Bring copies of any confirmation details that show the rate and amenities you were promised. This also helps if the hotel or host says your reservation is “lost.”
Don’t pay for “prize” vacations. No legitimate company will ask you to pay for a prize. Also, look for catches to resort or timeshare offers. They may come with taxes and fees to pay, timeshare presentations to attend, and high-pressure sales pitches to endure.
Don’t sign anything until you know the terms of the deal. Say “no thanks” to anyone who tries to rush you, without giving you time to consider the offer.
Use a credit card, if possible, for your travel spending. This gives you more protection than paying by cash or debit card — and it may be easier to dispute unauthorized charges.
Protect your identity and account information while you’re traveling.
- Take only the IDs, credit cards and debit cards you need. Make copies so, if someone steals your bag, you’ll know exactly what was lost.
- Make a copy of your insurance card to take with you.
- Leave all other important documents safe at home.
- Learn how to protect your mobile devices and personal information from hackers and malware.
Remember, if you have been victimized by an online scam, you can report your suspicious contacts to the FBI. You can file an online report at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or call your FBI local office.
Here are other links with helpful tips: