Travel Scams — Here, There and Everywhere

3 big travel scams you may well not have heard about: Internet ScamBusters #140

Today’s issue answers the question: what are the biggest travel scams that occur while you’re actually traveling? We’ll explain three of these most popular travel scams.

Let’s get right to it…

Travel Scams — Here, There and Everywhere

What do you think of when you hear the words “travel scam”? Maybe you think of the faxes advertising amazingly low fares for a vacation that expires that evening. (If you call, you’d find out that your travel is free but your hotel stay is charged at an incredibly high rate.)

Or maybe you think about the mail that comes in express mail-looking envelopes announcing you won a fabulous free cruise in a lottery you don’t remember entering. (If you call, you’d find out that in order to collect your prize, you’d have to attend seminars at your expense, or make purchases for things at highly inflated prices.)

We’ve written in detail about these travel scams and cruise scams before – click here.

But what about travel scams that happen once you arrive at your destination?

Thieves and tricksters are forever coming up with new ways to scam travelers, so it’s important to find out about these scams before you travel.

We’ll discuss three of the most common — and sneaky — travel scams today; these scams can absolutely ruin an otherwise delightful travel experience.

1. Front Desk Credit Card Confusion Scam

Anyone who has tried to see a city in a day and a half or cram 2 days of work into a 12-hour business trip knows what that kind of marathon activity can entail.

Imagine that it’s the end of your long day of frenzy, and you’re settling in for the evening in your hotel room. You’re drifting off to sleep when the phone rings. It’s the front desk clerk asking for your help in verifying some information.

The “front desk clerk” (aka scammer) apologizes for the late hour, but explains that at shift change some forms were left unfinished. She needs to confirm that the form she has is yours, and that the information is correct.

She asks if the last four digits of your credit card are 5678. You groggily reach for your wallet and pull out the card. No, you say, those aren’t the last four digits.

Hmmm, she responds, seeming perplexed. She then asks if you could just read the card number to her. You’re sleepy so you don’t pause before responding when she asks for the expiration date as well.

With a joyous Aha, she tells you that she has found your form. She thanks you profusely, apologizes again and assures you that all the information is now straightened out.

You hang up and drift back to sleep, not realizing that you have just been scammed by a con artist.

It might only be when your credit card is declined the next time you use it that you realize you’ve been scammed.

Action: Never give your card number out over the phone at a hotel. Ask for the name of someone to speak to and tell the caller that you’ll come down in the morning to straighten it out. Don’t offer to call the desk from your room and then feel safe giving the card number. For all you know, the thief is calling from a temporarily abandoned front-desk station.

2. Taxi Cabs or Scam Mobiles?

Once when leaving the main train station in Rome, Italy, a friend was heading for the Taxi Stand when she looked up to see an incredible line. She estimated that it would be at least a 30-minute wait. Our friend probably sighed, visibly. She was immediately approached by a nicely dressed man who offered her a ride and a bypass of the line by saying, “taxi?”

She could have taken the offer. But fortunately, we had told her about this scam beforehand.

Never take a taxi ride from someone who is not in an official, metered taxi cab. Doing so risks not just your wallet — but your safety.

Scam artists have been known to pose as taxi drivers and take off with your luggage. They have also taken unsuspecting tourists to a deserted area and then robbed and/or assaulted them.

At the very least, even if you’re lucky and avoid violence or theft, you’ll still be charged at least 4 or 5 times what the rate should be for the taxi ride.

Any taxi cab should have the car number and company marked on the outside, a registration and driver information card displayed on or near the dashboard, and should either have on display or offer on request a list of charges.

Make yourself familiar with the rate list when you first get into the cab. If possible, make your examination of the rate list obvious. Both these actions will help prevent the driver from getting any “bright” ideas.

If you’re not sure about where to catch a taxi or whether or not you were properly charged, ask at your hotel. If you think you were scammed, try to record identifying information about the driver and/or the vehicle so you can report it to the police.

Action: Never accept rides from individuals who don’t have licensed, metered taxis.

3. Hotel “Representatives”

This scam is similar to the Taxi scam.

The voices will start as soon as you disembark from the plane, train, boat or bus: “Hotel?” or “Room? You need a room?” will begin floating towards you any time you arrive in a major tourist destination transportation hub.

Much like the taxi cab scam above, be wary of those who approach you offering hotel rooms. These scammers may wear a laminated badge, carry a notebook or even have brochures about their hotels. (Very likely, they made these on their home computer.)

They’ll offer you a great rate, showing you the colorful pictures in the brochures, and then offer to take you to the hotel.

Once again, you’re in danger of losing your luggage or your wallet, and violence can occur with this scam as well.

Alternatively, once you arrive at the hotel (tired and ready to go to sleep), the hotel clerk will apologetically inform you that the rate promised is magically all filled for the evening — but they have rooms ready for you at twice the promised rate.

Once you wearily agree and head to the room, your “representative” will be handed a hefty tip by the clerk.

You’re best off making your own reservations by phone and confirming rates with a credit card. Make sure you get a confirmation number that you can show upon checking in.

Action: If you arrive in a city without a reservation, avoid these lone representatives. Look for the nearest tourist information office or hit the nearest phone booth with your travel guidebook in hand.

Now that you know about them, you can avoid these three destination travel scams. Have a great — and safe — week.