"Unfortunately, scam artists are always on the prowl to lure cash from unsuspecting summer travelers," said Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. He issued today's consumer alert to provide Arkansans the information they need to recognize and avoid travel scams.
According to the National Consumers League, the most common vacation scams arrive in the following forms:
Vacation Rental Scams - These scams typically crop up on online classifieds sites. The victim will find what seems to be an attractive rental in a desirable destination at a low price. Scammers often post images from a real property (pirated from real estate sites) to make their offers seem legitimate. The victim contacts the "renter" (really a scam artist) who then requests a deposit, usually by wire transfer. The victim arrives at the property to find that it either doesn't exist or, if it does exist, the "renter" was not the owner and had no authority to rent the premises. The vacation is ruined and efforts to retrieve the deposit fail.
Timeshare Purchase Scams - Victims are lured to high-pressure sales pitches (sometimes at the timeshare resort itself) with promises of a valuable free gift. To obtain the gift, the victim has to pay a fee for delivery or processing. When the gift arrives (if it ever does) it is often less valuable than originally presented.
High Pressure Timeshare Offers - These usually start with the offer of a free weekend at a timeshare resort. But that free weekend comes at a cost. The consumer must endure a high-pressure sales presentation designed to wear down the consumer's resistance and saddle him with a timeshare interest he neither wants nor can afford.
Fraudulent Vacation Packages - Victims see advertisements for deeply discounted vacation packages. After the deposit is paid, the victim finds that the package's value has been grossly misrepresented or that significant additional fees must be paid at the destination to take advantage of the "great deal." Efforts to recover deposits are generally unsuccessful.
Airfare Scams - Victims are attracted by promises of discounted or even free airfares. All that is required to get cheap or free tickets is an agreement to stay at a particular resort and book the lodging through a particular seller. But that's the catch. Only later does the consumer learn that the cost of the lodging is so much more expensive than if the consumer had booked it on his own that the "bargain" travel offer is no bargain at all.
Group Travel Scams - Often school groups will respond to offers of discounted group travel packages. Usually a substantial deposit is required to book the travel. In some cases, the booking agency is fraudulent and disappears with the deposit money before the travel date.
So, before you put money down on your summer vacation, follow these tips to avoid travel-related scams:
- Beware of unsolicited emails or phone calls offering hard-to-believe deals on travel to desirable locations. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- If you are working with a travel agency or vacation planning service, get all details about the trip in writing. Watch out for vague promises regarding "five-star" resorts or "luxury" cruises at cut-rate prices.
- Think again before believing that you've won a free vacation. These may be thinly-veiled ploys to obtain credit card information. And you should never have to pay to collect a prize.
- Check out the travel company before giving them any money. Make sure it's registered with the American Society of Travel Agents.
- Watch out for travel clubs offering free memberships. Often these services charge your credit card every month to provide few if any benefits.
- Always use a credit card when purchasing a trip. If you feel you've been swindled, alert your credit card company.
- Beware of timeshare deals involving high-pressure sales pitches. These are often strategies to get consumers to purchase overpriced timeshares with escalating maintenance fees.
- If you will travel overseas, let your bank and credit card companies know what countries you'll be visiting and when you plan to return so they can watch for any suspicious charges.