Summer, Sun and Scams: Protect your Vacation from Fraud

The summer months kick off many seasons of happiness – the end of the school season for kids, BBQ season, baseball season (this is a happier time for some fans more than others) and vacation season. Over the next few months, millions of Americans will hit the road or take to the skies in search of fun, adventure, relaxation and quality family time.

Unfortunately, summer is a very profitable time for scammers and fraudsters looking to flip your summer holiday. While you’re booking airline tickets for your family, they are booking your hard-earned money into their bank account. Your trip can go from a fun-filled journey to a disastrous Griswold vacation in a blink of an eye.

According to a report published by the Federal Trade Commission, an astounding $92 million dollars were lost to vacation and travel fraud since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. A majority of this amount stolen from Americans came from refunds and cancellations scams. From January 1, 2020 to June 15, 2022, U.S. consumers filed 58,580 reports centering around vacation and travel fraud. This amount is second only to online shopping fraud of 68,322 complaints.

The good news is you’re already equipped with the tools you need to prevent having your vacation ruined by fraud. The following tips won’t create shorter lines for the amusement park, keep bears away from your camper or stop your kids from asking “Are we there yet?”, but they can stop a criminal from gaining access to your dollars and sensitive information.

Copycat Airline Web Sites

When researching the best flight prices online, you see a great deal of significant savings with a major commercial airline. After booking the flight online or through the phone number listed, you receive a confirmation email that is missing a crucial piece of information – your pre-paid airline tickets.

In some cases, when you do receive your tickets, you will also receive a message that they are not valid due to a price increase. In order for your tickets to be finalized, you are forced to pay the additional charge. This tactic is something no legitimate company would ever do.

In either scenario, when you reach out to the airline, you discover your ticket was never booked or the flight doesn’t even exist.

To protect yourself:

  • Be cautious of third-party websites. These can appear to be legitimate when they are not. Go to www.BBB.org for reviews and see if the company has an actual physical address.
  • Double check the URL of the site before entering any information. Make sure the link is secure and starts with https:// with a lock icon on the purchase page.
  • Make all online purchases with a credit card as those charges can be disputed and you will be issued a refund.

Fake Apps

Every day, millions of people download legitimate apps from reputable companies. Scammers take advantage of the belief that a valid company is behind the software and create bogus apps that are focused on vacation and travel. They are designed to impersonate a genuine app, such for VRBO or Airbnb, and look almost undistinguishable from the real one.

Before downloading ANY app:

  • Be aware that while a fake app might have an identical logo to the real company, often the name or description will include a spelling error or typo, including the name of the app itself or developer.
  • Look at the number of downloads. For example, the real Airbnb app has been downloaded over a 100 million times. A fake app will have nothing close to that number – maybe just a few hundred.
  • Check out the reviews. Does it have more two-star than five-star ratings? If it is a fake app, there’s a great chance someone will leave a review warning others.
  • Review the permissions the app is requesting. Is it asking for authorization to things that seem unusual for a travel booking app, such as access to your calling history, microphone, camera, etc.

Other Tips

  • Before signing or paying for a trip, ask for a copy of the cancellation and refund policies. Any refusal or reluctance by the company to share these in advance means you should walk away.
  • Any travel or vacation package that asks you to pay with wire transfers, cryptocurrency or gift cards is a major red flag. If you use these forms of payment to secure your package, you will have no way to get your money back if there is an issue.
  • Just like other scams, if a vacation deal or rental property is not legit, the fraudster will try to rush you into making a decision. If you have time to think through what you’re signing up for, you’ll realize it is fake.
  • One of your best tools as always is your gut instincts. If you believe a travel or vacation offer seems to be good to be true or doesn’t make sense, it isn’t the real deal.

Scammers can quickly turn your dream vacation into your worst nightmare. By following these guidelines, you can protect your money – and your sanity. Remember, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. If you want to learn more about preventing identity theft, protecting yourself from fraudulent activity and next steps if you are a victim, check out this recent Buckingham article.

With all of that in mind, enjoy this wonderful time of the year. Safe travels!

About the author: As the Managing Director of Strategic Initiatives at Buckingham Wealth Partners, Jared Hoffman is energized by the ever-changing challenges and opportunities he and his team face as they work to be a resource for departments throughout the organization. Jared helps advance the strategic plan by collaborating on internal and external technology rollouts, improving internal best practices through training and development opportunities and acting as a resource for projects and initiatives of all sizes to improve the overall client experience.

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