Vacation scams are easy to sell because people are buying a dream — a trip to Tahiti, an African safari or week in a five star resort.
But behind some of these luxury getaways is a dark side. Beyond the photos are empty promises and (your) empty wallet. If you’re looking to book a vacation, research further than the pretty beach pictures. Make sure you know exactly what you’re getting before you fork over any cash.
Here are some tips from the FTC, LifeLock and top-notch travel agencies — all wanting to wish you “Bon Voyage” not “Better Luck Next Time.”
Protect Yourself Before You Leave
Don’t buy into contests. Though there are credible organizations offering getaways as prizes, when you receive a bulk mailing for a cruise you just “won,” call it a bluff. You’ll end up paying for it in the end.
Don’t be fooled by official logos. Professionally designed logos and well-written travel website copy are convincing. But be careful! Anyone can hijack content and pictures available online. Don’t depend on “official-looking” to determine if a hotel or tour company is credible. Make sure the property actually exists on a map and as a business.
Don’t wire funds. This is a dead-giveaway scam. Travel deals requiring you to wire funds before you jetset are surefire ways to lose your hard-earned travel budget.
Put it in writing. Obtain a contract before you hand over any cash. And be sure to get a receipt for any deposits you must put down. Better yet, use a credit card to book. Credit cards offer better protections should something go wrong.
Protect Yourself While You’re Gone
Guard your documents. Keep your driver’s license and passport in a money belt on your person, or in the hotel safe while you’re out. If important documents are stolen, report it to the local police, and the American Embassy. And be timely about it. You’ll need these documents (or at least temporary ones) to get home.
You may want to consider investing in Lost Wallet protection, a standard feature with a LifeLock subscription. This service means if you lose your wallet, LifeLock will help cancel and replace all the important cards you keep in there — credit cards, insurance cards, driver’s licenses and even your Social Security card (though you shouldn’t be carrying that around in your wallet).
Only deal with money in person. Consider this scenario: You’re tired. You’ve settled into your hotel room when you get a call. The person says he’s down at the front desk and there has been some confusion with your credit card information. He needs to verify it. This is a classic scam. Your best option is to walk down to the front desk and ask about it. Doing so will save a lot of grief, since the person who called is likely not associated with the hotel at all.
Be wary of wireless. Whether you’re in your hotel or at a café, be careful of unprotected wireless Internet. Checking your email or travel itinerary may be unavoidable and probably harmless, but it’s best to avoid using your credit card or logging onto your bank account. Also, only use ATMs at banks or credible establishments. This means you should avoid the one in the back corner of that nameless pub.
Keep tabs on your credit. If you’re able to find a protected Internet connection while away, keep tabs on your credit. If not, pay close attention to bank and card statements when you return home. If your card numbers were compromised while traveling, you could see erroneous charges. Report these right away.
Be alert and trust your gut. Sometimes there is no should or should not. If a situation seems fishy, opt out. There will be other options, and you’ll feel more confident being better safe than sorry.