Avoid Travel Scams This Summer

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First the good news: We’re finally able to travel.

Now the bad news: Travel and vacation scams are on the rise. Here’s how to protect yourself.

Common Travel Scams

Ignore “free vacation!” offers. Even in the unlikely case there actually is a free vacation – or a low-cost one – after associated extra fees and taxes are charged (usually payable in advance), the “free” vacation isn’t free at all.

International travel document scams.   Sites offering to obtain travel documents on your behalf – a passport, for example – sometimes charge excessive fees. Go directly to the U.S. State Department to get your documents.

International Driving Permits.  Want to check out the local scenery by doing your own driving? Be aware that scammers set up websites offering to get you an international driving permit. Don’t bite.

Only three agents are authorized to issue legal international driving permits: the U.S. Department of State, the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA). Any other permit is worthless.

Charter Flight Scams.  Hundreds of charter flight operators have brought down the cost of traveling for the rest of us. But are all charter flights on the level?

Check with the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Special Authorities Division, which maintains a list of approved public charter flights. LInk is here.

If your flight isn’t on the DOT’s list (which could happen), check with a local travel agent or someone from the American Society of Travel Agents  If your charter can’t be verified by either a reputable travel agent or the DOT, consider walking away.

Don’t pay with gift cards, cryptocurrency or wire transfer- ever! A scammer typically wants payment by gift card, wire transfer, or cryptocurrency.  A credit card transaction provides a traceable vendor payment, which is why scammers don’t use them – and why you should.

AirBnB Scams

AirBnB is a popular alternative to hotels – so popular, in fact, that scammers use the site and its services to trick unsuspecting visitors. Don’t be among them!

Read departing guests’ reviews. If the host is new and doesn’t have many (or any) comments yet, keep in mind occasional scammers “ride” on Airbnb. Watch for these scams:

The Switcheroo

This happens when, on arrival, you’re told that your booking is no longer available but another place is available. Here’s how to handle this, scam-free:

First, never go “private” with emails or phone calls. Handle all interactions with the would-be host on Airbnb’s platform to ensure that the company has a complete log.

Second,  ask the host to cancel your original booking. This is important: if you cancel, you will pay the cancellation fee.

Third, refuse any new accommodation until you have inspected it.  If the replacement is worse (further from town; rooms smaller; expected amenities reduced or lacking), ask Airbnb for another accommodation, accept the new accommodation — at a lower price, or get a refund and make your own arrangements.

Phony damage claims

Check out the premises as soon as you arrive. Report immediately any observed damage e.g. carpet stain(s), cracked mirror, broken furniture items, etc.  Take photographs (cell photos are date-stamped).

When you leave, take photos of the premises. Between the immediately reported damage and departure photographs, the occasional unscrupulous host will be hard-pressed to assess damage fees.

The “Duck and Drag” Host

If you’re disputing anything with a host who drags in responding, it’s probably because you have a 14 day window after departure to post a review. The host is likely “ducking” you to avoid a possible negative review.

If the matter is still unresolved by Day 13 go ahead and post your (likely negative) review noting the outstanding, unresolved problem.

Nona Aguilar is an award-winning writer of numerous magazine articles and two books. She has also edited four specialty business newsletter publications. Her work has appeared in Ladies Home Journal, Redbook, Family Circle and Cosmopolitan, and in The Business Owner.

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