Travel Scams: 10 Tips to Avoid Getting Taken

Travel scams and PayPal class action lawsuit and settlement:
Internet ScamBusters #87

Before we get started with today’s special issue on travel scams, we thought we’d answer a question we’ve received from thousands of subscribers this week:

Is the email they received on the PayPal class action lawsuit and settlement real, or is it a hoax?

Shortly after we sent out last week’s issue of ScamBusters (which included two PayPal scams), PayPal began sending out emails titled ‘Notice of Pendency of Class Action and Proposed Settlement.’ Many subscribers wondered if it was a third PayPal scam.

Answer: This email that was sent out on 7/28/04 is legitimate. There is a class action lawsuit against PayPal, and the email describes the current status.

We predict, however, that if there aren’t already, there will soon be a lot of phishing scams about this class action lawsuit and settlement. So, to learn more about this PayPal class action lawsuit, see the email, and not get taken by a phishing scam, click here.

Useful Note: This page also contains a brief summary of the PayPal class action — including what you need to know and do now.

Different topic, also before we move on to travel scams: If you’ve subscribed to ScamBusters in the past year and you’re interested in working at home or starting a small business, we recommend you check out this article on work at home scams. We’ve had so many subscribers ask us questions last month that are answered in this article.  Click here to learn more about work at home scams.

OK. Let’s get right to it…

Avoiding Travel Scams — Getting a Good Deal Without Getting Ripped Off

Since we’re in the travel season, it seemed like a good time to focus on avoiding travel scams.

If you’ve been working too hard, the thought of a free (or ultra-inexpensive) vacation might sound pretty appealing — and scammers know that.

Travel scams are becoming much more common, and potential travelers need to become more wary.

Here are ten things you really need to know to avoid getting taken by travel scams:

1. If you are offered a travel deal by email, it’s almost certainly a scam. Just about all bulk email travel deals (or free vacations) are scams.

If you are offered the travel deal by phone, be very skeptical. If you’re unfamiliar with the company, get its name, address, and local telephone number. Check their track record if you can. (Unless you can find a legitimate local or regional office for the company, it’s probably bogus.)

2. “If it sounds too good to be true…” Wouldn’t we all love to believe that we just won an all-expense-paid trip to the Baha or a weekend at Disneyland?

Listen for the details — or read the ‘fine print.’

In many travel scams, your airfare may be free, but there could be a clause in the contract that says you must stay in particular accommodations — which turn out to be outrageously expensive.

Another type of ‘too good to be true’ pitch is winning a contest or lottery. If the agent claims you’ve won a contest, get more details. Public contests and lotteries have rules and regulations — and you normally have to ‘enter’ to win.

If you didn’t enter, you didn’t win anything. You’ll just be asked to pay lots of fees. Don’t — it’s a scam. If you’ve won a legitimate contest or lottery, it shouldn’t cost you anything to get your winnings or prize.

For more on these lottery scams, click here.

3. Never give your credit card number over the phone unless you made the phone call and you know that you’re dealing with a reputable company. And you should never have to disclose any other personal details, like your checking account or social security number.

4. If you think you are interested in the offer, always ask what’s NOT included: ‘service charges,’ ‘processing fees,’ and taxes are typically added on after the fact — and you’ll be expected to pay for them.

Ask for specific details, too. Many travel scams are based on really vague information — for example, they’ll use phrases like ‘major airline’ without naming it.

5. Know that you can only dispute credit card charges within 60 days of acquiring them. So while it’s a good idea to pay with your credit card (so that you can dispute the charge if it turns out you’ve been scammed), be wary of travel deals in which the ‘availability’ is more than 60 days away.

6. Never dial a 900 number to reach a travel agency or club. No legitimate company requires you to pay for a 900 call to phone their customer service desk.

Also, beware of calling numbers with 809, 758, or 664 area codes. Many phone numbers seem ordinary, but are actually like unregulated 900 numbers located in the Caribbean — and you could be charged exorbitant per minute rates.

We’ve written about the ‘809 area code scam‘ extensively — for more info, click here.

You can check out any area code here before you call it:


7. Make sure you get copies of everything — for example, your receipts, your itinerary, and the company’s cancellation and refund policies.

8. Don’t give in to high pressure tactics that perpetrators of travel scams use to push you into making rash decisions. They may use lines like, “This offer expires at midnight” or “This is the last day that we’ll be making this offer.”

This doesn’t give you time to check into the background of the company making the offer, and they know it.

If it’s such a great deal, why should they pressure you to decide without checking it out?

9. Don’t ever make a payment before you receive all the information — or even worse, some travel scams require you to pay to get the information.

Legitimate travel businesses will make sure you have all the details before you have to pay for anything.

10. Ask for references — and contact them. Then be wary of references who simply seem to be parroting everything the travel company has told you.

These tips should keep you from being taken by travel scams in the future. If you think you may have already been scammed in the past, your state Consumer Dept. or Attorney General may be able to help.

You can find links to your state Attorney General’s office here:


We hope you have had — or will have — a great vacation this summer!