CBS News Travel Editor Peter Greenberg says fraudsters love to take advantage of the lure of big sporting events to try to fleece fans.
And on "The Early Show" Monday, he explained how you can be wise to what they're up to by knowing what to look out for.
It's so bad that the Transportation Department is out with a warning about this year's Colts-Saints clash.
When any larger-than-life sporting event comes up, travel scams in various forms and sizes rear their ugly head, in e-mail and regular mail, Greenberg points out.
Many claim you've won a trip you didn't even know you were in the running for.
Last year, an e-mail went out in Pennsylvania trying to hook Steelers fans, claiming to be from the Visa Super Bowl Winning Contest. It promised $100,000 to fans and two Super Bowl tickets. All fand had to do was wire the e-mail senders 3,000 to cover taxes! The letter had an NFL logo at the top.
There are already e-mails circulating about the upcoming World Cup. One promises three free tickets and $2 million. There are spelling errors throughout, and they have cut and pasted the official World Cup Logo at the end of the e-mail to emphasize supposed authenticity.
Another document to watch out for: postcards promising packages similar to the one just mentioned, on "travel certificates." Keep in mind, these scam companies can cut and paste and logos or art they want to use. One postcard Greenberg got hold of, from a company already prosecuted for travel scams, mentions Ramada. When Greenberg contacted Ramada representatives, they told him they'd never heard of Sea Escape, and weren't involved with it, saying, "Sea Escape has no relationship with Ramada Worldwide and is not authorized to use the Ramada Worldwide name or logo. We are further investigating this matter and appreciate you bringing this to our attention."
Then, there are the travel "certificates" claiming you've won a trip to the Super Bowl and a great Super Bowl package, complete with a hotel room. Here's the big catch there: You get the hotel (which is often a dump), but you have to book your airline tickets through the "contest office," and these tickets are much more expensive than you can get your own. And what's worse: It's only when you arrive at the terrible hotel that you discover the package never included tickets to the game. So you can watch it in your hotel room!
RULES AND REGULATIONS
After the 1994 Rose Bowl, when many of Greenberg's fellow University of Wisconsin fans arrived in Pasadena, only to learn that their air tour packages didn't include the promised tickets to the game, the U.S. Transportation Department began cracking down on tour operators that falsely promoting sports packages that infer tickets to the game. If you've received a document package for a sport event that implies you have tickets, there are the laws in-place:
• Event travel packages can't advertise their package until they have enough tickets in their possession, or on contract, to provide for a substantial number of participants.
• And they can't sell you a travel package unless they have enough tickets in their possession, or on contract, to guarantee one to you.
• If an event package promises you an event ticket and doesn't provide you with one, you're entitled to a full refund of the total tour package, without penalty.
• The price of a special event package can't be increased at all within 10 days of departure.
• If you book a package and the price goes up by more than 10 percent before that, you can cancel and get a full refund, without penalty.
• If the tour operator makes a major change including changing the flight's departure or arrival city for either the departure or return date, or substituting a hotel that isn't named in the ad, you can cancel and receive a full refund.
Here's what you can do to make sure you don't get scammed:
• Make sure you're dealing with a reputable travel agent and don't assume that ads offering travel deals are being offered by travel agencies.
• Pay attention to what the travel package does and doesn't offer. Don't assume that every package includes airfare, hotel accommodations and tickets to the game.
• Pay attention to the details of the hotel. They may say it's "within walking distance" from the venue, but look it up on a map: It may turn out to be walk-able only if you're an Olympic marathoner! Then you have to pay more for rental cars or other transportation.
• Pay close attention to the dates involved in the flight, too. Make sure it actually gets you there in time to see the event!
• Get all the terms and conditions of your package in writing, including the cancellation policy in the event that you are unable to make the trip.
• ALWAYS PAY by credit card, where possible: That provides some degree of protection under fair credit practice laws.
• DON'T use cash or wire money. You can dispute charges on credit cards, but have little-to-no recourse when using cash.
• Check with the event organizer, promoter, or venue where the event will be held to find out how and when tickets are being sold.