Be on the lookout for nine travel scams
Travel scams will again be plentiful this summer, say the folks at Experian. Fraud increased by 16 percent in 2017, and there’s no reason to expect that trend will reverse any time soon.
Experian released its list of six scams, but the list involves some double-counting, and it also does not cover all the possibilities. So here’s my list of nine to watch out for.
Free vacation or cruise. The pitch usually starts out by saying, “You’ve been selected…” Yes, you’ve been selected all right; selected for a fleecing. Whether it’s extra fees, upgrades, substitutions, unavailability, or a seemingly endless high-pressure timeshare promotion, don’t buy. There’s no such thing as a “free” vacation, so just fuhgeddaboudit.
Misrepresented accommodations. “Just steps from the beach” sounds alluring, but that could mean 3,425 steps. Whenever you’re dealing with a supplier you don’t know — especially on a vacation rental — check on as many of the claims as you can. Better still, deal only with known hotel chains or agencies.
Buy immediately. “If you don’t buy right now, you’ll lose the deal.” In most pitches such as that, losing the deal is your best outcome. Legitimate offers seldom go away in minutes after they’re offered.
Pay by cash or wire transfer. By now you should know that when you pay by cash or wire transfer you have zero chances of getting a refund if the deal goes south. Use a debit card if you must.
But your best protection is to use a credit card — a payment system that leaves a trail and also offers some buyer protections that other systems do not.
Street buying. When you buy an item from a street vendor, a locally produced handiwork might well be genuine or it might be made in Bangladesh, but either way, you probably aren’t out much money.
When it comes to high-priced items like a “genuine” Rolex watch, however, walk away from the vendor. And if you can’t tell a genuine emerald from a piece of a broken wine bottle, don’t buy emeralds.
Airport ATM thieves. That ATM you see when you arrive at a foreign airport may truthfully say “no fees,” but what it fails to add is “lousy exchange rate.” More and more foreign airports have succumbed to the lure of fat profits from awarding exclusive ATM location rights to retail exchange agencies.
These guys can gouge you by as much as 10 to 15 percent on the exchange rate. Yes, your best way to get local cash is by using an ATM, but only if it’s operated by a legitimate bank and not by an exchange agency.
Fake guides. You’ve probably had this happen: You’re walking near an important visitor center and someone approaches you and offers, usually in pretty-good English, to be your “guide.” Of course, other than speaking in English, you have no idea whether this person has any useful knowledge of the various attractions in the vicinity. And you will likely be dragged into a nearby store that offers the “best” prices on local specialties.
Verification call. If you’ve just checked into a hotel and you get a call on the room phone from the front desk to “verify” your credit card details, hang up. That “front desk” caller is likely in a boiler room somewhere recording your credit card details to run up a big bill. If you’re uncertain, go down to the desk yourself and see if there really is a problem.
Voucher repayment. When a travel supplier owes you money, you can bet it will initially offer a voucher for future use rather than cash. Don’t bite unless you have no alternative.
Vouchers almost always include restrictions and limits — time limits, if nothing else — that makes them much less valuable than cash. If you can demand cash, either demand that cash or ask for vouchers with a face value of at least double — and only then if you’re sure you can use them. Take vouchers only if you have no other alternative.
This is only a partial list. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
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