The rip-off artists promise you a great vacation at a bargain price, then dump you in a horrible hotel, or charge sky-high fees, or pull other shenanigans that cost you more and more money.
On The Early Show Tuesday, consumer correspondent Susan Koeppen explained how to make sure you don't get cheated, and what to do if you are victimized.
The keywords, plain and simple, are "buyer beware," since travel fraud costs consumers $12 billion each year.
The best defense is not to fall victim in the first place; if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
How do the bogus offers usually work?
You get a postcard, call, e-mail or fax offering you an all-inclusive vacation at a luxury resort. The price is very low and looks great, but you are often hit with hidden fees and taxes, you can have trouble getting the dates you want to travel and then be forced to pay an upgrade fee, and some of the luxury hotels turn out to be anything but.
What happened to you?
A fax came into the newsroom offering a week at a luxury, five-star resort in Cancun, Mexico for $299 dollars per person. Koeppen and her husband got a video showing luxury hotels. They bought it and, in the end, got hit with hidden fees and wound up paying more than $1,300. And the hotel was a dump.
Before you buy, there are some things you should do. First, get everything in writing.
Don't fall for high-pressure sales tactics. Tell the person you want to see all the information in writing first, including the refund and cancellation policies. If they say you need to buy right now or lose the trip, that's a red flag that it might be a scam.
Also, make sure you actually have a reservation at the hotel, and see it in writing, before paying for the trip.
Some of these trips offer the hotel, but not airfare. A lot of consumers have complained that they bought their plane tickets only to find out the hotel they wanted wasn't available, or the dates they wanted for the hotels were sold out. If you buy the airfare, then learn the hotel isn't available for when you wanted to travel, you might have a hard time getting your money back for the flights, or you'll pay a fee to change the flights, or you'll be forced to pay fees to get a hotel for when you want to travel.
Investigate the seller
Demand the address of the company. If it doesn't have a United States location, beware. Go to the Web to research the company's complaint history; see if there are any gripes on file at the Better Business Bureau or your state's attorney general's office.
Pay for the trip with a credit card
If you get scammed, you have more protection with a credit card, because you can dispute the charges. Be careful before you give out any financial information. The scam artists will say just about anything to get that information. They may say they only need it to verify that you qualify for the great deal. Don't believe them. Make sure you are totally sure the offer isn't a scam before you pay for it or give a deposit.
Where do you complain if you are victimized?
You can contact the attorney general in your state or the state where the travel company is located. Also, file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission.
From the FTC Web site:
Have you ever been tempted to sign up to win a "free" trip at a fair, trade show or restaurant? If so, you may get a phone call, letter, unsolicited fax, e-mail or postcard telling you that you've won a vacation. Be careful. It may be a "trip trap." The vacation that you've "won" likely isn't free. And the "bargain-priced" travel package you're offered over the telephone or Internet may not fit your idea of luxury.
While some travel opportunities sold over the phone or offered through the mail, Internet or by fax are legitimate, many are scams that defraud consumers out of millions of dollars each month. The word "offer" can be a clue to hidden charges. When you get the phone call, or place the call in response to a postcard, letter, fax or Internet ad, you also get a sales pitch for a supposedly luxurious trip — one that you could pay dearly for.
The salesperson may ask for your credit card number to bill your account for the travel package. Once you pay, you receive the details of the "package," which usually include instructions for making trip reservation requests. Your request often must be accompanied by yet another fee. In addition, many offers require you to pay upgrade costs to receive the actual destinations, accommodations, cruises or dates you were promised. Some offers may require you to pay more for port charges, hotel taxes or service fees.
See a pattern developing? New charges are being added every step of the way. You may never get your "bargain" trip because your reservations may not be confirmed or because you must comply with hard-to-meet hidden or expensive "conditions."
Telemarketing travel scams usually originate out of "boiler rooms." Skilled salespeople, often with years of experience selling dubious products and services over the phone, pitch travel packages that may sound legitimate, but often are not.
These pitches usually include:
How To Protect Yourself:
Unpleasant surprises can ruin a vacation, especially when they cost money. That's why it pays to investigate a travel package before you buy. But it can be difficult to tell a legitimate sales pitch from a fraudulent one. Consider these travelers' advisories: