Don’t Be Scammed When Planning That Summer Getaway

Travel Scams Blog 6.1.16

Have you noticed the sun starting to set later in the day? Can you hear the chirping sounds of baby birds? If, like me, you’re counting down the days until summer, then you’re probably already planning a vacation getaway. Unfortunately, this is also the time when scammers are out trying to trick you out of your hard earned money.

The Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker has recorded a number of travel scams in the Northwest, with consumers reporting a loss of more than $17,700 in the past few months.

This year a Western Washington resident reported losing more than $900 to an online travel company. The individual reported to Scam Tracker that after booking the trip they were unable to reach anyone over the phone. In Vancouver there were reports of someone receiving a call stating they had won a free cruise, if they paid $60 up front. The caller was pushy and loud, trying to pressure them to agree to the deal. Fortunately, the Vancouver resident was disconnected before they got tangled up in the scammers con.

If you have your sights set on planning a dream getaway, BBB serving the Northwest wants to prevent it from turning into a nightmare. Here are five things to remember when planning your vacation:

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  • Don’t be fooled. Be on the lookout for fake travel websites. Sure, the site appears to be professional, but even con-artists can put together a good-looking webpage.
  • Read the fine print. Life happens, and when you are planning a trip months or even years in advance, it’s best to know what your rights are when it comes to cancelling a trip. Read the fine print on cancellation policies to ensure you won’t be losing money if you have to postpone the trip. Also, be on the lookout for any hidden fees that might be tacked on at the end of your trip.
  • Rental home scams. Watch for fake rental listings and vacation packages that sound too good to be true. Scammers can easily hijack legitimate online listings and make it look like their own. To avoid getting caught up in a scam its best to deal directly with the property owner or manager. You can also do research online to verify the property you are renting actually exists.
  • Don’t get too social. While it’s tempting to live tweet your entire vacation, try to limit what you share online. Thieves sometimes use social media to acquire personal information about travel plans. It’s safer to wait until returning home before uploading those pictures to your Facebook.
  • Be Wi-Fi wary. Today many hotels, airports and restaurants offer free Wi-Fi. It’s not difficult for scammers to access personal computers or smart phones on public networks. Also be careful when using computers offered to guests at hotels. Identity thieves are known to add keyloggers onto public computers to track passwords.

Keep your vacation fun by playing it safe this summer. Learn more about scams in your area by visiting


For Safe Travels, Take Precautions to Avoid Scams

Image courtesy of fito |
Image courtesy of fito |

‘Tis the season for summer vacations! Whether traveling in your home state, throughout the U.S. or to a foreign country, taking precautions and knowing about potential scams could save you from a ruined vacation.

Book Online Securely

When booking travel arrangements and hotels online, it is safer to go to a company’s official website or call them directly. Do not click on online ads or links from emails. If using travel search engines, be wary of sites that offer prices significantly lower than other sites. If you choose to book through a third-party booking company, follow up directly with the hotel, airline or rental car company. You don’t want to find out after you arrive at a destination that the reservations were never made!

URL security

Make sure you have a secure connection before entering your personal or financial information; the web address or URL should start with “https” and show a lock icon.

Always pay with a credit card when booking vacations, and make sure you receive confirmation in writing. In the event that something goes awry with your vacation, you may be able to file a chargeback with your credit card company. If you are asked to wire money for a rental, that’s a big red flag that the deal is probably not legitimate. Never wire money to someone you do not personally know and trust.

Do Your Research

BBB has seen numerous reports of vacationers arriving at their destination only to find that the rental doesn’t exist or does not resemble the photos online. Use trusted websites, ask friends for referrals or use a travel agent to ensure you’re going to get what you pay for.

Be skeptical about vacation packages that are offered online, by email or on the phone. If a cruise or resort price sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Victims are often saddled with hundreds or even thousands of dollars in additional “fees,” or the accommodations may be totally inadequate.

Also watch out for promises of “free” airline tickets—there’s always a catch. Victims are often lured with promises of free plane tickets to attend a seminar, which usually involves spending thousands of dollars to buy into a vacation club. Those tickets turn out to be only vouchers with fees that often cost more than a regularly priced plane ticket. And the vacation club? If you did buy in, you might find there are many barriers to actually booking a vacation unless you upgrade your membership or pay additional fees.

Travel Safely

Remember to notify your credit card companies before you leave, especially if you are traveling to foreign countries. There aren’t many things more frustrating and inconvenient than having your credit card declined while traveling because the company thinks it’s being used fraudulently.

During travel and once you arrive at your destination, surf cautiously on public Wi-Fi networks (e.g. hotels, airports, coffee shops, libraries). Avoid file sharing and financial transactions, and disconnect when not in use. Be wary of hotel lobby computers available for guests. Identity thieves have been known to add keyloggers onto public computers that track passwords. Believe it or not, your smartphone’s 3G or 4G may be more secure.

While staying in a hotel, carefully scrutinize any menus that are slipped under your door. Fraudsters sometimes use phony menus to trick a guest into calling them to order food, and the consumer ends up giving his credit card information to identity thieves. And of course, no food will be delivered.

Beware of fake front desk phone calls, especially late at night. A scammer pretending to be hotel staff will claim there was a problem with your credit card, and ask you to confirm your card details over the phone. Don’t do it! Personally check with the front desk in the morning to correct any billing issues.

At the end of your hotel stay, check your final bill. Watch for fees that you didn’t incur, such as minibar purchases or TV on-demand movie rentals.

Be vigilant and careful when planning your vacation, and then go and have a wonderful time!

Choosing a Summer Camp for Your Kids

Image courtesy of artur84 |
Image courtesy of artur84 |

As you begin to look into summer camp options for your children, look beyond the pretty brochures and friendly sales pitches. Make sure the camp you have in mind is safe, well supervised and not a financial trap.

Dig deeper than whether a camp has bird watching, bracelet weaving or swimming lessons. Find out if it has a history of complaints, and make certain it has been in business long enough to substantiate its claims.

Visit the camp and pay careful attention to living, eating, medical and recreational facilities. Be sure to ask about safety procedures, particularly for water activities, archery or off-site trips. Inquire about the staff-to-camper ratio, the criteria for hiring counselors and whether a doctor or nurse will be on-site. Also ask about the camp’s insurance coverage.

Ask to see a daily schedule, even if it’s from last season. Make note of the hours, the variety of activities, the type of food that is served and any transportation that is involved.

Cover financial matters up front. Know all the fees up front, from the base price and any extra activities charges to whether meals and transportation are covered. Get everything in writing, including details about the deposit and refund policy.

Get references from parents of repeat campers, and ask why they recommend the camp. Inquire with the camp about the camper and counselor return rate.

Look for camps accredited by the American Camp Association, a nonprofit that works to ensure the quality of summertime programs. Accreditation with the ACA means the camp meets up to 300 nationally recognized standards.

Before Buying or Selling a Timeshare, Consider This

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

In the midst of dreary winter weather in the Pacific Northwest, it’s nice to think about a getaway somewhere sunny and tropical.

But vacations to exotic places can be expensive, and they often seem out of reach. As a result, many people choose to invest in a timeshare property, believing that will make vacations more affordable.

However, some timeshare “deals” are just too good to be true. Here are some things to consider before making an investment.

Evaluate the location and quality of the timeshare. You want to do business with a reputable company in a location you can see yourself visiting often in the long-term.

Understand the benefits and the obligations. Though the cost may be lower than buying a second property, it doesn’t mean additional costs don’t exist. There are maintenance fees and property taxes.

Read and understand the contract before you sign. Be aware of cancellation policies and other fees. Ask someone who has experience in real estate to read the contract to ensure you are getting a fair deal.

Always cancel in writing. The FTC suggests when canceling a purchase, you should always send a letter through certified mail with a return receipt request so there is documentation of the interaction.

Be cautious of buying outside the U.S. If you buy a timeshare with a company that operates outside of the U.S., they do not have the same obligations and you will not be protected under U.S. law.

When you’re ready to sell your timeshare, do your research before hiring a timeshare reseller. Find out where the company is located and in which states it does business. Ask if the salespeople are licensed to sell real estate where your timeshare is located, and verify this with the state licensing board (Washington: Department of Licensing, Oregon: Real Estate Agency, Alaska: Real Estate Commission). Ask if the company charges a commission, handles the entire closing and provides escrow services. Consider it a red flag if they charge an upfront fee.