Pro Tips to Avoid Online Travel Scams

by GO GlobeHopper

It’s an unfortunate fact that scams are on the rise, and they pop up in numerous ways that affect our daily lives. Since the onset of the pandemic, scams have quadrupled.  Some of the most favored ways to prey on innocent people are with the use of e-mail and telephone fraud.  Even more popular are internet scams, of which there are several when it comes to travel.  So if you are planning to book a trip, you definitely need to be cautious.

By now, most people have become accustomed to ignoring fraudulent emails from alleged royalty who want to share their inheritance just as soon as banking info is provided.  We also know to hang up on debt collectors who try to convince us we owe money when we know we don’t.  And we delete messages from companies telling us that we’ve won their grand prize despite that we have never entered their contest.  But most of us don’t know how to identify a travel scam.  So what makes them so easy to fall for?  It’s the simple fact that most of us are so excited about the idea of taking a vacation and finding an excellent deal that we forget the old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is“.  But, besides seeing an unbelievable deal, what else should you look for?

Well, there are a variety of ways that scammers trick vacation shoppers, including but not limited to fake travel websites and fake accommodation listings.  They also use unsecured networks and redirect customers away from trusted payment sites.  Many of these scams come in the form of unsolicited pop-up deals that suddenly appear in your email or social media feed.  Also on social media, you’ll find contests or offers for free vacations or airline tickets if you share the deal with a friend.  The offer will look legit, with photos and logos and all the right wording, including the kind of legal disclaimers you’d expect to see in an authorized contest or ad.  But the idea that they want you to tag a friend is indicative of a phishing expedition for your friends’ list so they can target those people as well.  And if they ask for a form to be filled out, it is often for the purpose of obtaining your personal information.

There are also scams known as ‘Bait & Switch’, where a fantastic vacation is advertised for a ridiculously low price but the company never honors the booking for the resort in the ad.  Customers are lured by gorgeous photos of upscale resorts and amenities, and vacations with a long list of perks, only to discover their intended destination has been replaced with a timeshare property in a different location.  Booking procedures for these types of scams come with a highly personal questionnaire, including questions about occupation and income for the purpose of pre-qualifying the client for the potential purchase of a timeshare.  Then, when the vacation is finally booked, the customer learns they are expected to sit through a high-pressure sales presentation while on holiday.  The only alternative is to opt out of the vacation, but the booking agency will then create a frustratingly long and difficult process to cancel the reservations, thus ensuring that the customer will end up going. The dates for these types of deals are also subject to change unexpectedly.  This approach might be fine for vacationers who already know what’s up and don’t mind a resort change and a heavy-handed sales pitch in order to get a cheap vacation.  However, for most people, these conditions are completely unacceptable.  Luckily, they are also avoidable.

To steer clear of all these scams and more, you could do a ton of research for each and every online travel company and deal you encounter.  Or, you could take our advice and book with a licensed travel agent, who will help you to choose the vacation that best suits your needs and budget.  They also will continue to assist you even after you arrive at your destination should you encounter any problems.

Unfortunately, many people believe online booking sites are infinitely cheaper than using a licensed travel agent.  That’s a misnomer.  In Canada specifically, a law has been passed that prohibits legitimate sellers from marking up prices that surpass the ability to be competitive.  In other words, you might find a few dollars difference here and there, or the occasional ‘special’ offered by a legit company, but for the most part prices are relatively the same across the board.

Not long ago we spoke with a couple who had previously favored booking online but having heard of so many online scams, they chose to try a licensed travel agency for their annual Cuba vacation.  Not only were they stunned to find the agency offered the identical deal as their preferred travel site, but the agent also helped them to pre-book their airline seats and assisted with early online check-in, which is something they previously didn’t know about.

We also encountered a bride and groom looking to book a destination wedding in Jamaica.  The couple was convinced that booking online would save money and they were just about to click and commit when they suddenly decided to check with their local travel agency first. By doing so, they saved $150 per wedding guest.  The agent also provided a personalized invite for their family and friends and took care of all arrangements and deposits.

But convenient and personalized service doesn’t stop there.  Travel agents can set alarms on their computers to immediately notify them of price drops they can pass along to clients.  They can offer and explain travel insurance options, book rental cars, and can call the airline or resort on your behalf to rectify any unexpected problems that might arise.  They can suggest and offer deals and discounts on local attractions and can advise on any travel warnings in effect.  They can help to guide you through any current pandemic procedures required by your destination and your return home. And they can even arrange an early flight home should you encounter a medical emergency or personal predicament, dangerous weather, or a political uprising.

In the end, a licensed travel agent‘s extensive know-how, connections, and array of services will far surpass most any booking sites you can find online.  And best of all, you can trust them!

That being said, if you still wish to book online, make sure you do so with a well-established company that has an ‘extensive’ internet presence, plenty of legitimate contact info that ensures you can get someone on the phone, and secure payment options.

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