Beware the tricks played upon travelers, from phony Wi-Fi hot spots to “free” vacation offers.
Don’t leave home without it: your financial security.
Whether traveling for business or pleasure, no one wants to worry about being scammed or exposed to identity theft.
But traveling — when we’re so focused on work or so relaxed that we let our guard down — makes us an easy target for identity thieves and scam artists.
From phony Wi-Fi hot spots to “free vacation” come-ons, here’s a rundown of some of the most common vacation-time scams.
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Wake-up call: You’re dead asleep in the middle of the night and someone who says they’re from the hotel front desk calls, asking to verify your credit-card information. Groggy and without thinking, you recite it, including the expiration and security-code number. Bingo, you’ve just landed in the hands of scammers.
If you get such a call, say you’ll call them back or that you’re coming down to the lobby. Hang up and call your credit-card company (the number listed on your card) to ensure there’s been no fraudulent activity.
‘Free vacation’ pitches: The come-ons land by postcard, letter or phone message: “Congratulations, you’ve won a free vacation!” to Tahiti, Tahoe or wherever. They often are linked to “vacation-club” memberships, where you join to get discount-travel deals.
Typically, they require sitting through a sales presentation at a company’s office or a hotel ballroom in order to receive your “free” round-trip airline tickets or three-day hotel voucher.
After enduring an hourslong, high-pressure sales pitch, problems can arise when consumers try to claim their freebie trip: The voucher covers less than promised, lots of blackout dates apply. The promoters frequently employ several layers of marketers, schedulers and voucher “fulfillment” operators, which makes it difficult to get answers or resolve problems.
Check the company’s complaint history on the Better Business Bureau’s website, bbb.org. Type the company’s name — and the word “scam” — into an online search box to see what pops up.
Social-media fraud: Fake emails or websites — known as phishing — are nothing new online. But they’ve now migrated to social-media sites such as Facebook and Instagram, where phony, look-alike accounts pose as legitimate companies. They post accounts promising free flights or other giveaways, if you’ll “like,” “follow” or “comment on” their site. It’s actually a ruse to get you to divulge sensitive personal information.
The phony accounts ask you to click on a link that contains malicious software or direct you to sites that try to steal your credit-card data, Social Security number or other personal information.
If a deal sounds great, go to the company’s website to see if it’s really offering it.
Fake Wi-Fi hot spots: You’re in the airport or at your hotel on a business trip or vacation. What’s the first thing you do? Check for a Wi-Fi hot spot for your smartphone, tablet or laptop.
But you could unwittingly be falling victim to an identity thief, sitting nearby and armed with a USB-based antenna to lure you in. It could be a network that sounds like your hotel — “Hotel Wi-Fi,” instead of “Holiday Inn Wi-Fi,” for instance.
Identity thieves use hardware and software that make their Wi-Fi hot spot the strongest available signal, which means your devices may automatically link to it. Once you’re connected, it might ask for a credit card or your name and room number. They could be inserting malware or trying to steal your financial information.
To avoid it: If you’re in a hotel, coffee shop, airport or office lobby, ask for the building’s official, specific Wi-Fi system. It may be worth paying a daily fee for the hotel’s enhanced Wi-Fi system. And never open personal email or access your financial accounts in a public place.
Stranded traveler: This can be particularly effective during summer, when we expect our friends and family to be traveling.
Scammers call or email with urgent messages that someone you know has been hit with a medical or financial emergency that requires wiring funds immediately (or they hijack the person’s email to send the plea). The caller frequently begs you to “not tell anyone,” ostensibly out of embarrassment.
If you get such a call, take a breath. Call the person allegedly needing help to confirm he or she is really stranded. Never wire money to a stranger.
Fake vacation homes: Similar to home or apartment-rental scams on Craigslist, consumers view ads for a vacation home or resort rental and, based on the enticing description or photos, wire a deposit (always a red flag if that’s the only way money is accepted). When travelers arrive at their destination, they discover the address isn’t real, the property isn’t owned by the person who took the deposit, or the “gorgeous” resort turns out to be rundown or even closed.
To avoid those unpleasant scenarios, the BBB advises Googling the address to confirm the property exists and isn’t out of business. If it’s a third-party travel site, call the hotel or resort’s 800 number to verify your reservation