Before heading out on your summer vacation, read through our list of four common vacation scams and learn how to avoid them. You don’t want to take a permanent vacation from your hard-earned money!
1. The bogus prize vacation
In this scam, you’ll receive a notification via snail mail, phone call or email, that you’re the lucky winner of a free vacation stay. You’ll eagerly start planning your trip, only to find that you’re repeatedly asked to pay various “prize fees,” “taxes,” or “reservation deposits” as the departure date draws near. Your “free” vacation isn’t free at all!
2. The dream-priced rental
You’re scrolling through Airbnb, searching for that perfect vacation rental house when you suddenly strike gold. There it is! The location you’ve been looking for — and at a dream price!
You’ll contact the renter and begin making arrangements for your trip. The renter will offer you an even steeper discount if you pay them through a third-party processing site instead of through the Airbnb website. Their likely preference is wire transfer. You’ll then be asked to pay a deposit or even the full price of the rental before you arrive. While it’s expected to pay upfront through Airbnb or another rental service, you will not have the same protection if you’re not using the site.
The problem starts when you arrive at your vacation spot — or try to do so, that is. The address does not exist, and the gorgeous pictures you’ve been looking through belong to another renter. Sadly, you’re now out of your money and have nowhere to stay during your vacation.
3. Phony “experiences”
Aside from vacation rentals, sites like Airbnb also allow you to book “experiences,” or days out on the town with locals.
Unfortunately, this platform has become a breeding ground for scammers who offer phony tours to eager vacationers. Always do your research and follow up with the company before paying.
4. Travel-club membership with a catch
In these scams, unscrupulous travel companies work hard to persuade you to join their travel club with the promise of significant benefits and kickbacks, including dream vacation stays, discounted cruises or resort tickets and completely free getaways.
Unfortunately, once you’ve joined the club, you’ll be charged high dues for perks that are so hard to access, they’re practically worthless. The discounted tickets will only be eligible for specific vacation dates, and the “free” trip promised also comes with severe restrictions.
How to spot a vacation scam
Now that you know the many ways you can be conned while planning or being on vacation, let’s take a moment to review the red flags that will clue you into these scams.
A. Upfront fees. Whether it’s a vacation rental, a tourist experience, or a sweepstakes prize, you should not have to pay more than a small deposit before your arrival. If you’re asked to pay steep upfront fees or even the full amount before your vacation, that’s a major red flag.
B. Specific payment methods. Similarly, if you’re asked to pay via wire transfer only, you can be sure you’re looking at a scam. According to the FTC, a demand for payment by wire transfer is the surest sign of a scam.
C. Skimpy details and absent reviews. When booking any vacation, do your research. If your contact refuses to provide you with anything more than the most basic of information and you can’t find much more online, you’re likely looking at a bogus vacation.
D. Prices are too good to be true. Trust your instincts. If a vacation rental, experience, or package is priced ridiculously low, do some digging. Google the travel company or the renter’s name with the words “scam” or “bogus” to see what results come up.
E. Pressure tactics. Scams succeed with speed; therefore, if you’re urged to sign on a vacation package quickly or risk losing out on the deal, opt-out.