With the arrival of summer and the easing of shelter in place restrictions nationwide, people are planning vacations, looking for jobs, and starting home improvement projects.
Unfortunately, scammers are gearing up to take advantage of these summertime, post-quarantine activities with a wide array of schemes aimed at turning your plans, projects and even your aspirations into cold hard cash.
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.
Avoid Summer Bummers
Free WiFi: These networks can be convenient and completely legit, but they can be easily set up by scammers, or even if they are “legit,” they may not be optimized for security which renders them accessible to cybercriminals.
If you don’t need to connect to a public or (potentially) unprotected WiFi network, don’t do it. Never transmit personal details or payment information via public WiFi, and be sure that any website you do visit is encrypted via SSL.
If you’re planning to do anything potentially risk online, use a VPN (virtual private network) to protect your data. Never use “free” VPN services.
Use a credit card instead of a debit card: A debit card is a code that leads directly to your cash--real money, not credit. With that code in his or her possession, a criminal can empty out your bank account. The protections on these cards are good, but not as good as a credit card. Use credit cards when traveling instead.
Do your homework: Don’t provide payment information to anyone without making sure you’re on the right site, and whoever you’re working with is in a position to provide what they’ve offered to you, whether that’s an equipment rental, an excursion or anything else vacation related.
Home and Work-Related Summer Scams
Not all summer scams target unwary travelers. There are legion crimes waiting to happen that target their victims at home or in the workplace. Here are a few of the more common methods employed by scammers:
The summer months are the busiest time of the year for the house moving industry. More than any other time of year, that’s when we move. The first thing you need to know to get your move done right is that there are fraudulent services out there posing as legitimate moving and storage companies. Your job: Avoid them.
“With new online services like Task Rabbit and Angie’s List to name two, there are ways to choose a moving service, large or small, that will suit your needs and both sites provide reviews. Just make sure whatever service you choose that you check their reputation online before they show up at your door,” says Levin.
Not every scam makes use of the Internet. One old-fashioned method involves going door-to-door under the guise of collecting money for a service or organization.
“Sometimes the knocker wants you to help save an endangered species or an embattled population far away, sometimes they are selling a lawn service, home maintenance or sustainably produced electricity — all these causes, services and products may be legitimate, but the person offering them … not so much,” says Levin. “If you like what a knocker has to say, tell them that you will go online to help their cause or buy a product, and send them on their way.”
Home Improvement Scams
Many homeowners schedule major projects for the summer months, making them ideal targets for shady or fraudulent contractors.
“[B]e wary of high-pressure sales tactics, up front fees, and fly-by-night businesses. Con artists will take homeowners’ money and deliver slipshod work… or no work at all,” warns the Better Business Bureau. “Say no to cash-only deals, high-pressure sales tactics, high upfront payments, handshake deals without a contract, and on-site inspections.”
Summer Job Scams
High school and college-age students looking for summer jobs are a common target of employment scams.
“When it comes to providing personally identifiable information to an employer, use your head,” says Levin, who warns that “when kids are offered a ‘job,’ they provide their information for tax purposes, including their Social Security number, and then never hear back. The reason: The only “job” was a robbery. Their identity is stolen, and because kids will be kids, it often takes a long time for them to realize the jerk who flaked on a summer job offer gutted their creditworthiness.”
Don’t provide sensitive information on job websites or to anyone claiming to offer summer employment without doing some research. You can figure this out by doing an online search or making a few phone calls.