Crazy horses, fake websites, phony scratchcards and latest hotel tricks in our annual travel scams roundup: Internet Scambusters #804
Reporting on travel scams has become an annual ritual here at Scambusters.
And we never cease to be amazed at the ingenuity of crooks, whether they're creating fake websites, overcharging for hotels, and finding other ways to relieve you of your vacation savings.
In this week's issue, the first of a two-parter, we'll show you what to look out for and how to avoid travel scam troubles.
Let's get started...
Before You Vacation: Learn About these Travel Scams
Travel scams are more common than ever these days, especially for overseas vacationers.
Over the years, we've reported on scores of sneaky tricks that locals try to pull on unsuspecting travelers. But each year, we uncover more new scams.
And once again, we've come across so many we need to spread it across two weeks' worth of Scambusters issues.
Here's this week's rundown:
Horses That Return to Base
Horseback riding is a popular pursuit for vacationers. The general idea is you go on a trail with a group of other riders and, sometimes, a local guide who leads the group.
For a start, as you'll know if you've ever done this, these rides are often over-priced and you can easily find yourself paying for "extras," like hiring riding tack or even paying for food at a phony rest stop.
The latest trick is to train horses to turn around and return to base after just a short ride, perhaps as little as 10 minutes.
Inexperienced riders find they can do nothing to convince the animal to continue. And, of course, when you get back to base it's next to impossible to get any of your money back. Often the owner either can't speak English or pretends that's the case.
Action: Make sure you clarify at the outset the amount of time you're hiring the animal for. Look up the word "minutes" and "hours" in your language dictionary and then write it out for the owner to see and agree to.
Copycat Visa Websites
If you need a visit for a country you're visiting, make sure you're in the right place if you plan to get it online.
Scammers build copycat sites, often with material like FAQs and application forms stolen from genuine sites. They charge high fees and then they may or may not supply the visa.
Sometimes, the visa itself is available totally free of charge on the real site.
The even bigger worry, however, is that if you use one of these sites, you're also going to be giving away confidential information that could be used for identity theft.
Action: To check visa requirements for other countries and find links to consulates and embassies, visit the U.S. Department of State's website.
At many vacation destination airports, you'll almost certainly be pestered by reps wanting to sell you timeshares or lure you to some other money-making scheme.
One of their tricks is to hand out free fake scratchcards. These always turn out to be "winners" but there's always a catch -- like you have to attend a timeshare or vacation club presentation or pay a fee to collect your prize.
Then, there's either no prize or a smaller one. For example, in one recent example, a couple visiting the Canary Islands who got snared, thought they were buying a 10-year vacation club membership (which they didn't want anyway) only to discover they'd simply bought access to a website where they would have to pay more for vacations.
Action: If someone hands you a "winning" scratch card you didn't ask for, it's a fake!
Two New Hotel Scams
Hotels are often the scene of scams, intentionally or not.
Among the new tricks we encountered in our research for this year's travel scams roundup is a simple bait-and-switch scam.
This involves advertising rooms at ridiculously low prices but then, when you arrive, claiming the room you booked is no longer available but offering another at an inflated price.
The scammers know that, as a weary traveler, you'll likely agree to the expensive room. In any case you'll find it hard to get back any money you've already handed over.
Another variation involves inflating the room cost with items like taxes and fees, which, you now learn, were not included in the original price.
The same type of hotels may try another trick to get more money out of you. While you're having breakfast on your final day, they sneak up to your room and lock it. Or they may just lock it in the middle of your stay.
Either way, they claim you must have mixed up your dates or times, and that your booking has ended. In order to retrieve your luggage, you'll have to pay an "additional time" fee.
Action: These sorts of tricks only happen at low-grade, non-branded hotels, so be wary if that's where your travel budget takes you.
Contact the hotel before traveling to confirm your room, the exact dates, checkout times, and the price, asking if there will be any additional fees.
Beware These Bagbnb Tricksters
You've probably heard of Airbnb, the program that provides cheap accommodation, often in private homes.
But, what about Bagbnb?
This is a perfectly legitimate operation that involves storing your luggage after you check out of your hotel, for when you're not planning to leave your location for a while.
Many businesses, not just hotels, offer this storage service for a fee. You just have to locate and book online at Bagbnb's website.
The service is fairly new but already some scammers have muscled in, visiting storage locations and claiming to have lost their receipt. They usually also say they're in a hurry to try to pressure the storer into handing it over.
And they may have watched travelers taking their luggage inside, enabling them to describe it accurately.
Action: It's really the responsibility of storers to manage your luggage securely. If you ever use this service, insist that your luggage not to be handed over without the claim tag. But then, make sure you don't lose yours!
That's it for now. But we'll have more travel scams for you next week.
Alert of the Week
Have you recently lost money in a scam? If you're lucky, you might be able to get your money back -- provided the scammers have been caught.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission regularly mails out refund checks to victims when it's able to get its hands on the scammers' ill-gotten gains.
To find out if you can get you cash back, visit Recent FTC Cases Resulting in Refunds.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!