Don’t fall for these summer travel scams

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Justin Lavelle

The summer vacation season is finally here. Have you booked your trip yet?

There’s actually someone who’s more excited about your trip than you are, and that’s the scammers hoping to rake in millions from unsuspecting travelers. This time of year, travel scams surge — targeting people of all ages, but especially older travelers.

Here are a few tips to protect you, your family and friends during the busy summer travel season:

• Avoid the vacation rental scam — One of the biggest scams today targets travelers booking hotels and vacation homes through websites. Renters are enticed by an incredible deal and book it online with a payment wire. When they arrive at their destination, the hotel or rental home exists, but they have no record of your reservation or payment, and have no room waiting for you. That’s because your money went to the scammers instead.

Always do some online research before paying in advance online, or use a background checking service. You can search the individual or company’s name (and physical address) to get a sense of whether or not the company is real and if the name matches the property.

Also, always pay with a credit card that has a fraud prevention guarantee, book through well-known travel websites and companies, and call the properties directly to confirm that they do offer rentals and have availability when you are looking to book.

• Don’t broadcast the fact that you’re traveling — Telling people when you’re going away and where you’re going is advertising your absence, leaving you, your friends and family open to scams (and your home open to theft).

One common scam results from your email account getting hacked. The scammers send an email to your contacts that appears to come from you, telling them you’ve either being mugged or somehow lost all your money while on vacation. “You” then ask your friends or family members to wire money, which goes to the scammers!

Since the email is coming from someone they know, people will sometimes believe it. Remind your friends and family never to wire money without talking to you or someone you’re traveling with first.

• Beware of high pressure travel club companies —Some of today’s “travel club” companies employ unscrupulous tactics and high pressure sales to entice consumers into purchasing their vacation club memberships (similar to the style of many time-share companies).

Consumers believe they are getting something for free by attending travel club sales presentations, and then are under the belief they are joining the vacation club at a reduced price after high pressure tactics.

They later find out they are not getting a good deal, and could have purchased the same vacation for less elsewhere. In general, vacation clubs are a common source of travel complaints, so it’s best not to agree to the presentation in the first place.

• Steer clear of shared Wi-Fi, if possible — Most people understand the dangers of using an open public Wi-Fi hotspot. Did you also know you also have to be careful with protected networks at hotels and other venues that require a password?

Any time you use a shared Wi-Fi network in a public spot, it’s easy for someone to intercept your data and monitor what you’re doing. They know what sites you’re visiting, your account passwords, emails and more.

• If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is —If a deal sounds incredibly cheap, there’s a strong likelihood it’s a scam. Companies aren’t about to give you an 80 percent discount on your travel and stay.

Protect yourself from scams by always using a credit card with fraud protection, always get everything in writing, play it safe by booking directly with a company (whether it’s United Airlines or a resort in Mexico), and do your research on a site like Trip Advisor.

Before you get wrapped up in the idea of a relaxing getaway, do your homework and proceed with caution to protect yourself and your family.

You can also use a website or app background check service, such as BeenVerified, that enables you to verify information and avoid the many scams that proliferate on Craig’s List and other sites that specialize in vacation rentals. You can also use it in conjunction with a people search when transacting on Airbnb.

BeenVerified charges a monthly fee starting under $25, with discounts for three or six month memberships. Rates vary among the services.

Justin Lavelle is communications director for BeenVerified.com, which allows individuals to find information about people, phone numbers, email addresses and property records.