2021 was the year when the travel and leisure industry was partially revived after the drastic restrictions that blocked it the previous year. However, while travel agencies, hotels, and airlines were eager to get back to business and start making profits again, scammers were also waiting for opportunities to attack. Many people have been looking forward to spending their holidays abroad since Covid-19 travel restrictions have gradually been lifted over the past months.
This meant planning, booking, and purchasing accommodation, plane tickets, and different other tourism-related services. With so many consumers ready to spend on vacations, scammers soon became creative and invented all sorts of shady schemes to make money from enthusiastic travelers. From fake airline tickets, to travel agency impersonation scams, many were the tricks that managed to deprive consumers of almost $80 million since January 2020 in travel and vacation scams.
The Federal Trade Commission made this figure public to help people understand the gravity of the situation and exercise more caution while booking tickets and accommodation for their vacations. The $80 million loss was calculated based on the complaints consumers filed following their losses.
The BBB (Better Business Bureau) has also issued warnings during the past months to help people become aware of the potential risks as scams were rising at an alarming rate. Many of the travel scams that made tourists lose hard-earned money in 2021 involved telemarketing. Scammers pretended to call from different travel agencies to promote vacation offers. They either tried to sell full packages involving accommodation plus transport or pretended to act as airline ticket brokers who could offer clients great discounts on different routes. These calls didn’t raise suspicion, given that legit companies were also willing to work hard to recover for last year’s losses, and heavily promoted their services both online and through telemarketing.
Another common travel scam that came to light this year involved fake websites that look like legitimate booking platforms. People who made payments via those platforms thinking they would buy plane tickets or book hotel rooms ended up losing money that went into scammers’ accounts. Most of the time, these scams were discovered after the person arrived at their destination and realized there was no room or apartment booked under their name. Obviously, those who booked fake plane tickets managed to discover earlier that they were scammed. Many of those copycat websites were well designed to appear genuine to those who are not very familiar with the real booking platforms.
One way to detect them, besides searching online to see whether there is another website with a similar name and purpose, is to pay attention to how you come across that website. In many of this year’s travel scams that relied on copycat websites, scammers used social media ads to lure people. The ads directed visitors to fake websites where they were offered different travel services. The ultimate purpose was to determine people to make a payment or at least register their credit cards while creating an account. Another way these fake ads and websites worked was by allowing scammers to infiltrate users’ computers to steal their credentials and personal information through malicious software.
Scammers also adopted a different tactic to speed up the process. They have reached out to people directly by messaging them on social media platforms and luring them with good deals for accommodation or airline tickets. This is also one of the major red flags to watch out for in order to avoid travel scams. Another red flag are unsolicited calls during which the alleged travel agent asks you for your bank details and personal information.
Besides trying to spot red flags, another method to avoid travel scams is to book directly through airlines or hotels. This is a more cautious method compared to booking services through travel agencies, especially if the entire process is carried out exclusively online. And if you book through an agency, to make sure you’re not dealing with a fake website, look around for more details about the respective company online. Check out if the website has a contact section with a clear address, read their terms and conditions, as well as the cancellation and refund policy. A legitimate website should have these sections and a clear cancelation and refund policy.
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