Better Business Bureau advice on how to avoid vacation scams

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School is out, the warmer temperatures are here, and planning for your summer vacation has probably begun. As you search for the perfect trip, be on the lookout for scams that can turn your relaxing vacation into a stressful one. Be especially alert to anyone using a sense of urgency to trick you into booking your plans before you’ve fully checked things out.

Here are five holiday diets that have been reported to BBBs in recent years:

1. Vacation Rental Plan. Vacation rentals are a great option for traveling and having the comforts of home. But you will have to be careful of listings of properties that are not for rent, that do not exist or that are very different from those pictured. In this program, vacationers are lured by the promise of low fees and great amenities. The “owner” creates a false sense of urgency – for example by telling potential guests that another vacationer is interested in the rental – to obtain payment before doing enough research or questioning the legitimacy of the announcement.

Keep these tips in mind:

> Speak with the owner by phone. If you’re not using a service that verifies properties and landlords, don’t negotiate a rental by email alone. Many scammers do not live locally. Speaking with the owner on the phone, asking detailed questions about the property and local attractions will clarify if the listing is true. An owner with vague answers is a clear red flag.

> Check public records. Investigate online by researching the address and using Google Street View to confirm the property is as advertised. Also check distances to beaches, attractions and airports when you are on site.

2. “Free” vacation scams. When a cruise or travel company advertises a vacation as “free,” it doesn’t necessarily mean the trip is entirely free of charge or restrictions. Beware of additional charges for airfare to the port, port charges, taxes, gratuities, and other undisclosed charges. Learn more about these cruise scams and the following red flags:

> Claim that you have won a trip without participating in a competition,

> Prices, accommodations and several amenities that seem extremely low,

> Pressure to take the offer now or it’s gone forever. Instead, walk away, hang up the phone, or delete the email or text.

3. Hotel scams. When staying in a hotel, beware of these techniques used to obtain credit card information. Scammers count on travelers – tourists and business people – being tired or in a hurry. Pay special attention and pay attention to these tricks:

> False calls to reception: The scammers call late at night pretending to be the front desk person. The caller claims there is a problem with the card on file and asks the traveler to “recheck” the credit card information.

> “Free” Wi-Fi connections: Wi-Fi skimming is a growing scam that targets travelers with the promise of free internet access. Scammers establish a fake connection that appears to be free, but is not secure. They will control the connection through their computer and collect all data transmitted by the traveler, including passwords, card information, etc. Avoid banking or checking personal accounts while using an open Wi-Fi network. Use a secure private network if it is absolutely necessary to access personal or financial accounts.

> Fake food delivery: Scammers will distribute fake menus in hotel rooms. When a traveler calls the phone number and orders delivery, they collect credit card information and never deliver the food.

4. Scams on Third Party Booking Sites. If you book your airfare, hotel, or other travel through a third-party website, be careful. BBB Scam Tracker continues to receive reports from scammers pretending to be online airline ticket brokers. In the most common version of the scam, travelers pay with a credit card and shortly after making payment, they receive a call from the company asking them to verify their name, address, banking information or other personal information, which a legitimate business would never do. Learn more about these booking scams.

5. Counter-sale of timeshares. Another common travel scam is the timeshare resale scam. A timeshare owner looking to sell receives a call from someone claiming to be a real estate broker or agent. These scammers claim to specialize in reselling timeshares and promise to have buyers ready to buy. To secure this service, the scammer pressures his target to pay an upfront fee. The timeshare owner pays, but the reseller agent never delivers.

BBB offers the following tips to avoid these holiday-related schemes:

> Look for reviews and ask for references. When checking out hotels, travel agencies, vacation rentals and more, check out BBB.org for reviews and complaints or call your BBB at 423-266-6144. Look for photos and a variety of reviews. If the property or business has no online reviews, ask for references and call them.

> Avoid transferring money or using a prepaid debit card. These payments are the same as sending cash. Once the money is sent, there is no way to get it back. Paying with a credit card greatly limits liability for a fraudulent purchase and provides the opportunity to dispute incidental charges before paying your bill.

> “A bargain” is probably not the truth. The scammers lure the targets by guaranteeing an amazing trip at a very low price. Search it first. Call the relevant hotel to check prices and confirm if the company is a reseller for them. If the hotel, trip or tour is much cheaper than similar options, beware.

> Do some spying. Check the website for links to the company’s Twitter, Facebook or Instagram accounts. Often scammers will link to Facebook.com instead of a specific Facebook page for their business. If they have social media accounts, check their activity and see if other users have left reviews or made complaints. Also look for typos and pixelated images. These errors are signs of a scammer, not a company that cares about its online presence.

Michele Mason is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.

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