As nations open their doors to tourists, travelers have started planning their summer travel adventures. But getting scammed in regards to travel planning is unfortunately a risk that’s present. Technological advancements have given travel scammers an easy way to reach enthusiastic travelers. If you're purchasing travel insurance or making other travel purchases, you want to make sure you're receiving exactly what's promised to you.
There are various types of travel scams. However, most of them fall under two categories.
- Total Scam: This is when a traveler ends up paying for a full package, but there is no fulfillment or delivery of items promised. It occurs through third-party websites and unverified ads.
- Scams Disguised in Marketing: This kind of fraud occurs when a travel package or insurance is bought but there are hidden costs or exclusions that may only be explained in the fine print. For example, a traveler may buy a hotel at a cheap rate, but it may incur an undisclosed resort fee, or not include features such as a complimentary breakfast or airport pick up.
To help you avoid travel scams, we’ve compiled a list of ways to avoid popular travel scams.
Tip #1: Understand how scams work
To avoid scammers, travelers need to be vigilant and aware so they can spot scammers immediately. Part of this is knowing how scammers operate. For example, free vacation offers generally require travelers to pay a high amount of money on extras. These offers are generally more prevalent in the cruise industry. For example, an agency might say that a cruise is “free,” but once you factor in the hidden costs, the price ends up being the same as if you were to purchase a cruise ticket.
If you reach out to one of these offers, always read the fine print and search for any taxes or additional fees that are undisclosed.
Another common way scammers operate is through third-party ticketing and insurance sites. Sometimes, they’ll build a website that appears genuine and offer great packages to potential buyers. For example, you might come across fake sites for airline ticketing, hotel booking, or travel insurance. To avoid this scam, always verify the source of the deals that are presented.
Tip #2: Avoid deals that require you to hurry
A tell-tale sign of scammers is an urgency for them to close a deal. If the seller of a vacation package or an insurance plan is rushing to sell the product, there are high chances they’re not genuine. In such cases, always check their licenses and double-check anything they offer.
Common areas where rushed deals occur are in timeshare selling, vacation offers, and hotel/resort bookings. Often, sellers will offer a limited period of time for the offer and coax the prospect to give in to the pressure. It’s especially common for sellers to use advertisements on social media channels. When transactions are made online, sellers often go incognito once they’ve received a booking payment from interested travelers. To avoid falling prey to one of these scams, make sure you choose authentic sources for deals.
Tip #3: Demand proper documentation
The greatest weakness of a scammer is in their inability to produce authentic documents to verify their identity. Therefore, before finalizing the package deal, ask for confirmation of every detail (such as confirmation, cancellation policies, refund options, etc.) in the form of a written confirmation such as an email, official letter, or PDF document.
When the partner sends the email, make sure that the documents are from the organization’s official email address. Do not accept any paperwork that is sent from personal emails that end in .gmail.com or .yahoo.com. If a digital signed document is sent to you, check that the signature is authentic. Apps like Adobe PDF readers have in-built features that allow you to verify signatures.
Tip #4: Avoid paying with a debit card
Using a debit card to make advanced payments is insecure. Debit cards often have zero fraud liability policies, which leaves you more vulnerable to financial losses in case of debit card fraud. With credit cards, on the other hand, fraud policies set in place, and your financial liability can usually be dropped to $0 if the fraud is reported early. Paying with a credit card also means that no money is being deducted from your savings in the bank account.
The same principle applies to wire transfers and/or any other form of money transfer payment, such as Western Union or MoneyGram. Financial institutions are often not held liable for fraud payments, since transactions require the consent of the sender.
Therefore, always try to use credit cards while paying for any form of advanced bookingshotels, tickets, timeshares, or insurance.
Tip #5: Read the fine print of travel insurance offers
Travel insurance is an essential part of every travel kit. Scammers often take advantage of this necessity and provide various plans that aim to dupe buyers. And ever since the pandemic arrived, the number of fake travel insurance providing COVID-19-related trip policies are skyrocketing.
Only specific travel insurance policies can cover problems related to COVID-19. Patriot America Plus and CoverAmerica-Gold are examples of trustworthy policies that can cover pandemic-related medical and other expenditures for a trip. But if a third party pitches COVID-19 coverage without proper proof, it should be a red flag.
Travel insurance scammers may also promise a ‘cancel for any reason’ (CFAR) policy. CFAR is a legitimate top-up value benefit added to many travel insurance policies. However, it’s never sold as a separate insurance plan. Therefore, it’s crucial to buy a plan from only trusted travel insurance providers.
Here is a checklist to gauge the authenticity of a travel insurance partner:
- Check if the insurance provider is licensed with all the relevant authorities. For example, VisitorsCoverage is licensed with the US Travel Insurance Association, is Dun & Bradstreet Verified, and is part of the American Society for Travel Advisors. The licensing details have also been listed on the website for everyone to see. This proves the legitimacy of all the policies offered.
- Verify if they use a secure payment gateway. The easiest way scammers can commit fraud is during the transaction of advance payments. Always check if the travel insurance provider has a secure payment gateway that will protect data from getting misused. VisitorCoverage website offers Norton-secured payment gateways.
- Go through testimonials, service reviews, and google reviews. Authentic travel partners will always allow their customers to leave reviews on their service. Not only does it prove that genuine services are being provided, but it also helps other customers understand which plans and policies might be recommended. Comments on review websites such as Google are posted after verification of the user and are therefore trustworthy.
- Licensed Customer Service Representatives: Make sure you're able to access licensed customer service reps. Sites that make it hard to contact the support team probably aren't reliable. VisitorsCoverage, on the other hand, offers multiple ways you can connect with their customer service team, such as Luna (virtual assistant), toll-free number, email, WhatsApp, and by accessing your online login.
Before going ahead with your travel purchase, proper research is a must. If a deal seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Always choose trusted providers that are licensed and make sure that you’re purchasing products directly from a verified source.