How to avoid online hotel booking scams: Internet Scambusters #702
Every year, an estimated 15 million hotel bookings turn out to be fake.
Travelers lose $1.3 billion -- as well as their credit card numbers -- to scammers.
In this week's issue, we'll tell you how to avoid the tricksters, and pass on details of a new bogus "tech support" call.
Let's get started...
15 Million Bogus Hotel Bookings Every Year!
How do you rate your chances of being scammed when you make a hotel booking?
You probably think the likelihood is pretty remote. But it's not.
According to the latest figures, something like one in every 16 online room bookings is a fake.
That's right. Six percent of travelers ended up booking on phony hotel websites that looked like the real thing.
That adds up to 15 million bogus bookings every year, handing the crooks an estimated $1.3 billion -- to say nothing of the millions of credit card numbers they harvest at the same time.
These fake sites can be really convincing. The website address (URL) often contains the name of the hotel and the photos are copies of pictures on the genuine website.
In other cases, the bogus sites actually pose as online travel agents, again using genuine logos and photos.
And in at least one reported case, a fake site had a "contact now" button that connected victims with a fully-staffed, bogus call center.
The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA), who uncovered the scale of the fraud, say scams are only part of the problem.
Almost one third of people who booked rooms via an online travel company (including legitimate ones) rather than directly with a hotel had other complaints, including getting a room that was different from the one they expected, being charged unexpected or hidden fees, being charged an extra booking fee and failing to get refunds for a cancellation.
In other cases reported by the Federal Trade Commission, travelers have arrived at hotels only to learn there's no record of their reservation, the hotel is fully booked, or they have to pay more for the only upgraded room available.
"These deceptive practices harm consumers, who don't get what they want or need, suffer the loss of reservations or face additional charges and fees," the AH&LA says.
"These findings clearly show that online hotel booking scams have eroded consumer confidence among third-party vendors," said Katherine Lugar, its president and CEO.
"Consumers deserve transparency in knowing who they are booking with. That is why we have been actively working with state and national government agencies, including the FTC, as well as consumer advocacy groups, to ensure that consumers are protected and can feel comfortable in the booking process. It's always safest to book directly with the hotel."
But, of course, that advice only makes sense if you know for sure that you really are dealing with the genuine hotel.
As the FTC says in a recent alert:
"Just because a webpage looks like the official site of your favorite hotel chain doesn't necessarily mean it is. Before you reserve a room for your next out-of-town meeting or family vacation, make sure you know who's at the other end of that BOOK NOW button."
If you key in the name of a hotel on Google or another search engine, it's not safe to just assume that the first result is the hotel's official site. Some legitimate booking agencies pay for that coveted top slot -- and scam sites can turn up at the top too.
And even if you manage to make a successful booking via one of these sites, you may discover, as bookers in the AH&LA survey did, that you may not get your reward points or other perks.
To stay better informed and reduce the risk of being scammed or being simply short-changed on a deal, the FTC suggests you should:
- Book directly through a hotel chain using the toll-free number or web address on your rewards card or in print ads.
- Check any booking website you use for details of additional charges hidden in the small print.
- Carry a printed copy (or an easily accessible smartphone copy) of any email confirmation you receive after making your booking.
- Before setting out on your journey, call the hotel (using a number you know to be genuine) to confirm they're expecting you.
We'd add to that: Make sure you know what's included in your room fee. Is there an additional room tax or an extra charge for Wi-Fi services, for example?
There's nothing worse than arriving at the end of a long journey only to find your hotel booking was either a fake or not what you thought you were paying for.
Save yourself the heartache by investing a little time in taking these precautions instead.
Alert of the Week
You already know about the tech support scam in which someone pretending to be from Microsoft, Dell or another tech company calls you saying they detected a problem with your PC and need to gain remote access to the machine.
But what about a similar call from the Global Privacy Support Network warning that your email account has been hacked and is sending out fraudulent messages?
Nope, that's a scam too. Although the organization is legit, the calls are not. The GPSN doesn't do that sort of thing. So if you get the call and a demand to access your PC, hang up!
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!