Vacation season presents a golden opportunity for scammers. Their targets are typically looking for bargains and are more likely to let their guard down, especially now with demand for rentals and hotel space at an all time high. For those hoping to get some rest and relaxation away from work and other responsibilities, the competition for that perfect vacation spot can present a perilous lure--and scammers know it.
If you’re planning a trip, keep an eye out for the following scams.
The Summer Rental Scam
It’s not easy finding a vacation rental, and when something good pops up online, the tendency is to pounce.
“Don’t be most people,” says CyberScout founder Adam Levin. “If you get scammed on a rental, you’re not going to know till you show up at the front door.”
Obviously the safest bet is to visit the property you want to rent before signing on the dotted line--but for many that’s not possible. After all, it’s called a get away.
“If you are working with a real estate agent,” Levin adds, “ask for his or her license number (and check it). Request references and check them too, especially if there are no reviews online and confirm that the address is real (Google Earth can be helpful here) and that the premises are truly available for rent.”
Some home-rental websites have their own vetting processes and offer guarantees that will protect you in case of fraud. Check before you click.
The Front Desk Scam
Hotel and motel guests beware! Scammers love to call random hotel rooms claiming to be the front desk. Here’s how it works: They wait till later when you may be asleep or tired and tell you that there’s a problem with your credit card. Next, they will ask you to confirm your credit card information. (Some may go so far as to ask you to provide your license number. Remember, these are identity thieves.)
“If you get a call from the front desk, hang up and call back or go in person to confirm your payment method,” says Levin.
Bottom line: Never share your personally identifiable information over the phone, especially not when you are called and have no way to verify who is on the other end. Caller ID lies, and a direct call to the front desk is as easy as dialing 0.
The Fake Menu Scam
You ever see menus in the lobby of a hotel or in your room? Do you know how they got there?
The fake menu scam is an insidious tactic used by scammers to steal the credit card information of the unwary traveler. It’s pretty straightforward. A fake restaurant menu is slid under the door or your room (or is left there by an accomplice in house keeping). When you call to place an order, the bad guys get your credit card information--and your home zip code if they’re clever.
Levin advises travelers to do research ahead of time. “Use your smartphone to order food or call the front desk for suggestions,” Levin says.
Lodging Discount Scams
The internet is bursting with third-party services that claim to be helping customers find the best deal on hotel or vacation rentals. Not all of them are legitimate.
“After you input your credit card information, you may find that a reservation was never made and that the scammer now has your credit card details,” warns Consumer Reports.
If a rate or a discount seems too good to be true, it probably is. You don’t have to be a detective to do a little background research on a reservation service you’re about to use--especially before you provide payment information. Finally, confirm your reservation directly with the hotel.