More hotel tricks in Part 2 of our travel scams 2018 round-up: Internet Scambusters #805
In Part 2 of our travel scams special, we've got more inside news about the tricks some crooks play to extract money from hotel customers.
They include double charging from room service, using skimming devices to steal credit card details, and setting up fake hotel websites.
We'll give you the details on these together with a warning about how thieves use distraction tactics to steal camera equipment from tourists.
Now, here we go...
Paying Twice for Room Service? It Must be a Travel Scam
We're back to the subject of travel scams this week with Part 2 of our round-up of the latest con tricks vacationers can face -- especially those traveling abroad.
Let's dive right in with a sneaky trick encountered by travelers to some parts of Europe and Southeast Asia\0x2026
This one was reported by the consumer finance site GoBear.com
Double Room Service Charge
You're settling in to your vacation hotel. Why not order room service and get into relaxation mode right now?
A hotel employee delivers your order and asks you to sign a confirmation slip. But then he announces that this hotel doesn't allow you to charge room service to your room account. So, you pay there and then.
All seems well. Maybe you do this a couple more times.
But when you check out, you find all those items on your hotel bill again.
Naturally you object, but then the clerk produces all those receipts you signed. These only confirm you got your order, not that you paid for it.
Then the clerk either doesn't understand you, disagrees with your claim, or otherwise argues to keep the upper hand -- and don't forget, they likely have your credit card details from when you registered so they may charge your card no matter what you say.
As GoBear says, it becomes your word against theirs. And usually you're in a hurry to leave, adding to the pressure to just pay up.
Action: When you check in, confirm the hotel's policy regarding room service. Always carefully read anything you sign. And if the waiter insists you must pay, have him wait while you call the front desk. Subject to all of that, if you still have to pay, ask the waiter to give you a receipt.
Hotel Card Skimming
GoBear also reports on the increasing use of skimmers at some hotels.
You hand over your credit card to pay a bill and, in addition to running it through the hotel card reader, the employee also passes it through a small pocket device, which reads and stores all your card information.
This may also happen during a room service visit or in the hotel bar. The waiter says he can't accept cash, so you hand over your card.
To perform the skim, the waiter will try to get out of your sight for a few seconds. And it's likely he won't use your card details himself but sell it to ID theft dealers.
So, you may not discover you've been scammed until quite a while after your trip, and then you won't know where the theft of your card details took place.
Action: Hotel card skimming has been reported from hotels in the U.S. as well as abroad. You can read about some of them on the travel site TripAdvisor.com. The key is to try to keep your card in your sight at all times.
If you feel uneasy, you have to insist to the waiter that the card remains in your sight. If you can't do that, make sure you know the employee's name for a future investigation. Asking him will actually be quite a powerful deterrent to ID theft.
Another defense some people use is to have a credit card with a very low credit limit. In some cases, you can actually limit the amount per transaction on the card.
Skimmers have also been discovered in ATMs inside hotels, so be on the alert. Check the card slot to see if it has an addition -- and cover the keypad with one hand as you key in your PIN to avoid this being spotted by a hidden camera.
Fake Hotels and Rentals
Although we've written about fake hotel bookings and vacation rentals before, the scam has risen at such an alarming rate during the past couple of years, it's worth repeating the warning.
The scam usually takes the form of someone advertising a hotel or rental property they don't own -- and the poor vacationers don't discover they've been conned until they arrive at their destination.
The American Hotel & Lodging Association says this crime is netting around $4 billion a year for scammers.
The crooks may advertise individual rentals on sites like Craigslist. In more sophisticated scams, they create fake sites that are almost identical to genuine hotels' sites.
Action: You've got to be sharp-eyed to catch out these scammers. If you're renting a vacation property, it's best to do it through one of the big owner agencies or major travel sites. Some of these agencies also offer insurance in case your rental turns out to be fake.
With hotels, again, it's always best to work via reputable travel sites. If you feel in any way unsure, call the hotel, ask questions to satisfy yourself they're genuine, and then book over the phone.
Always pay with a credit card, so that if you do get stung, you'll likely be protected against significant losses.
Watch Your Lenses
Finally, if you're a photo enthusiast and like to travel with a lot of gear, watch out for thieves who feel equally enthusiastic about it.
They generally operate as a group of up to five or six people who rush up to you and seem to want to show you something.
They hold a large card or document right under your nose, clamoring for your attention. While this is going on, one of them slips off the lens of your camera and then they all walk off in different directions.
Even if you spot that your lens is gone, your chance of finding the thief and then doing anything about it are strictly limited.
The whole thing is usually over in a matter of seconds.
You can see a video of exactly how it unfolds in St Petersburg, Russia, on a British newspaper site. As you'll see, some deft handwork prevents the victim from getting his lens back.
Action: If you're accosted by this type of group, hold tight to your camera gear. If it's safe to do so, turn and walk away.
Better yet, it your camera make allows it, use a lens lock.
Alert of the Week
No, the American Association of Poison Control Centers is not trying to contact you with a request for money -- but scammers using their name and hotline phone number certainly are.
Reports from across the U.S. say the crooks have been using the cover to make a whole series of demands, mainly soliciting payments.
The Association doesn't operate this way. It only calls people to follow up medical issues. And it never asks for credit card information or Social Security numbers.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!