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Fraudulent Travel Agencies Steal Millions, Leave Customers Stranded

After a long winter, many families are looking forward to relaxing spring and summer vacations. Your inbox is likely filled with travel deals, and websites are highlighting exotic destinations. But before you book your trip, take precautions to protect yourself.

In December, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office indicted 10 suspects in a $1 million scheme that wove together identity theft and stranded travelers.

Some of the stories of personal loss were heartbreaking. DA Cyrus R. Vance said in a released statement, “This alleged scheme left a pregnant woman stranded during a multi-part trip, forced relatives to miss a family wedding abroad, and made it impossible for a son to visit his cancer-stricken father in India.”

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Here’s how the alleged scam worked: Multiple travel agencies catering to Indian-Americans were set up in New York; advertisements for “competitive” prices on airline tickets and hotels were placed in Indian-American publications; customers paid for travel arrangements with cash or checks, which were deposited in bank accounts; the travel agencies used stolen credit card information to purchase airline tickets, which were issued to the customers.

Some of the tickets were used, but alert credit card owners contested the fraudulent charges which resulted in the airline tickets being canceled. Sadly, the travel agency customers, who had paid thousands of dollars for their tickets, often had no idea that their tickets had been canceled until they arrived at the airport for their trips.

The Secret Service, Homeland Security, Bank of America and American Express all assisted in the investigation.

This is, unfortunately, not a unique case. For example, back in 2010, a similar scheme resulted in $20 million in losses.

DA Vance warns people “to be on high alert for scam artists and cybercriminals.”

Tips from LifeLock:

 

  • Credit Card

Use a credit card to pay for travel purchases. Credit cards afford more protection than cash, checks or debit cards.

  • Verify

Call to verify your reservations. Not the travel agent, call the airline and hotels.

  • Passports

Don’t give a travel agency your passport information. You’ve heard frequent admonitions about protecting your Social Security number. The same goes for your passport number.

  • Travel Insurance

Consider purchasing travel insurance. Read the policy carefully. It could save you from heartache.

As for selecting a travel agency, all of the companies involved in the above scams were properly licensed, so due diligence may not have prevented you from getting caught up in their schemes. By following the LifeLock tips, you may be able to subvert a scam before it ruins your spring or summer travel plans.

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