Vacation Scams Can Cost You Any Time Of Year
Watch for the Warning Signs of Travel Fraud
Just because summer is over doesn't mean you can let your guard down when it comes to vacation scams. Whether it's the sale of bogus time shares or vacation clubs, prize-related vacation fraud, or anything else, don't be sucked in by the promise of free or low-cost holiday trips. Unless you heed the warning signs, you could end up wasting your money.
One scam that's been circulating recently is the posting of bogus vacation home rental ads, including photos of real homes, on Craigslist and other online classified advertising sites. Those who respond are asked to pay a deposit, only to find out later that the advertised property doesn't exist, has been misrepresented, or isn't available for rent.
That's just one of the fraudulent practices the National Consumers League mentions in its list of vacation and travel scams.
For more examples of common financial ripoffs, read "Beware of These Scams."
Recently, consumer officials in Hawaii, Maine, and other states also posted a list of six signs that a phone call, text, email, letter, or in-person offer is actually a travel scam.
Someone contacts you unexpectedly.
You get a "robocall" from someone using an automatic dialer, a common and illegal method scammers employ.
You're told you've won a free vacation or air travel but that you have to first pay some fees.
You're asked for your credit card number "just for verification" or to pay taxes or port fees.
You can't get specifics on the promised travel arrangements.
You're pressed into signing up right away for a travel club or any other travel-related service or you'll lose the opportunity.
Last year, we wrote about the dangers of vacation clubs, citing many online complaints and a lawsuit New Jersey filed against a company that it said collected hundreds or thousands of dollars in membership fees and then failed to deliver the deep discounts, vacation accommodations, and other travel services it had promised.
How Scammers Rent Out Occupied Houses
Permission ABC News
When the owners of an Indiana home recently listed it for sale, they got an unexpected surprise: a rental scam targeting their address.
"People were getting out of their cars. They were coming up to our front door, ringing our doorbell, looking into our windows, " homeowner Amy Hagans told ABC News after an ABC News reporter noticed a story about her plight that originally appeared in The Star Press.
The people were responding to a Craigs List post advertising a three-bedroom, two-bath house, with a big backyard that was available to rent for just $750 a month.
"I fell in love with the house. The yard was humongous, " said Patty Costa, who came to see the house in Muncie, Indiana.
Costa said the home was "perfect" for her grandchildren. After exchanging texts with the person who posted the ad, she wired the person a $275 deposit and then came to see the house herself. When Costa approached the home, she learned that the deal was too good to be true. The Hagans' had posted a sign saying, "Our house is not for rent" to alert people to the scam.
"I opened the door to see a lady standing on my porch, reading the sign on our front door, " Hagans said. "I felt terrible about the whole situation." It's a scam being played out in housing markets across the country.
"It's very, very simple to do these types of Internet scams. It's very easy to hijack an existing listing, " said Austin Berglas, the head of U.S. Cyber Investigations for K2 Intelligence, an investigative consulting firm. The process is called "scraping."
Scammers create fraudulent rental listings using photos and details from legitimate postings already online.
In the Hagans' case, the scammer may have used images from the real estate company's website where the Hagans' had posted their home for sale.
According to the FBI, scams like these cost Americans nearly million in 2014. And the bureau estimates the actual number of cases could be 10 times higher because many aren't reported.
These types of scenarios also exist in the vacation rental market.
When Cherry McCaffrey used a rental website to book a vacation house in South Lake Tahoe for her extended family, they found the door unlocked when they arrived.
After they settled in, the owner showed up, not knowing his house had been rented out.
Experts say there are ways renters can protect themselves. First, never wire money. Second, try a "reverse image search" for the listing photos on a site like Google. If images from that listing appear on multiple websites, renter beware.
Lastly, use common sense. Scammers will not join our membership ranks. They do not want to be found out. They want to stay under the radar.
"I think the best tip, is really, if it looks too good to be true, it most likely is, " Berglas said.
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When skiing in Utah don't forget to order your groceries. Lines in the grocery store can be brutal after skiing. Let The Grocery Girls take care of it for you. We will contact your lodging provider and have your food, snacks, and beverages stocked before you arrive.
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