10 tips to help you beat Olympic Games crooks: Internet Scambusters #487
It happens every time the Olympic Games are held -- scammers turn out in force, selling fake tickets and non-existent hotel rooms.
With the London Olympics just weeks away, hundreds of alleged scammers have already been arrested but police warn that others are still hard at work, particularly targeting visitors from the US and other overseas locations.
We have the details in this week's issue, plus 10 top tips to help you stay safe if you're traveling to London this summer.
Scores Arrested as Police Clamp Down on Olympic Games Scams
With the 2012 Olympic Games in London just a few weeks away, law enforcement agencies have issued warnings about the risk of scams.
Memories of the phony ticket and package deal scams that hit the games both in Sydney and Beijing have come flooding back.
In both of those events, thousands of victims were lured into paying for tickets on crooked websites, or paying for packages that either didn't exist or didn't include the implied ticket.
The 2012 Olympic Games will be opened by Queen Elizabeth on July 27, with an expected audience of 80,000 at the newly built Olympic Stadium.
The event will be followed a few weeks later by the Paralympic Games at some of the London venues and the same alert about scam artists has been sounded.
London's Metropolitan Police have even set up a special program, Operation Podium, to counter organized crime.
In particular, they're concerned about Olympic Games-related scams that target overseas sports enthusiasts.
In one bizarre incident, they arrested a man allegedly involved in an online scam that duped one US victim out of more than $200,000.
The crooks supposedly claimed to be law enforcement officials and tricked the victim with a bogus contract to provide transportation for police throughout the whole event.
So far, more than 100 people have been arrested for allegedly selling forged tickets and non-existent hotel packages, or for running bogus Olympic Games sites.
News reports suggest demand for tickets and hotels is driving up prices, with tickets and hotel rooms selling for more than $1,000 apiece.
According to London newspaper The Independent, scammers have seized this opportunity to market bogus vacation rentals in and around London, using photographs of genuine properties.
They set up promotional websites, take deposits and then shut down and disappear.
In some cases, even legitimate rental agencies have been fooled into accepting scam rentals onto their listings.
The owner of one such agency told the newspaper: "It's an awful state of affairs, and visitors to London must be extremely careful about thoroughly checking the credentials of the agencies they are thinking of booking with, before parting company with their money."
The fear is that many travelers won't discover they've been conned until they arrive in London for the 2012 Olympic Games to find the apartment they thought they had rented either doesn't exist or has been legitimately rented to someone else.
In other cases, authorities have warned that even genuine rentals can spring a surprise, when the renter discovers there are a number of hidden charges -- like sales tax (VAT), which, in the UK, is currently 20%.
The Olympic Games are one of the few events for which people travel from all over the world, often tying in vacations and other tourist activities, so travelers are being warned to be on the lookout for other scams that target tourists.
Beware, especially, of pickpockets, who will be out in force in London, and check out these earlier Scambusters issues for more information on travel scams:
In the meanwhile, if you plan to head to London for the 2012 Olympic Games, or have business connections with the event, here are 10 tips to follow to make sure you don't get scammed:
- Only buy tickets from the official site (or ensure your travel agent has done so). If you live in the UK or Europe, get them from the 2012 Olympic Games site. In the US and other countries, you should buy them through your National Olympic Committee or their authorized sellers.
- Beware of bargain hotel and rental rates that require a high deposit.
- Independently establish the name and phone number of hotels, then check them out online. Book by phone if you can, using your credit card.
- Refuse to make any kind of payment or deposit via money-wiring services like Western Union or similar.
- If you're renting accommodations, ask the owner or agent for references that you can independently check out.
- Find out if any agency you're using belongs to a trade body with whom you can verify their credentials.
- Do a search on the address of any rental you're considering -- to check that it exists and isn't being sold or rented out by someone else.
- Check what's not included in the price. If you're buying what seems to be a hotel and tickets package, double check that it does in fact include tickets and that they have been obtained from official sources.
- Beware of any phone numbers that start with the numbers 070 (or, from the US, 44-70). These are what are called UK "platform numbers" and can be used anywhere in the world.
- If you're in business, thoroughly and independently check out any contract proposals. None should involve you having to make an upfront payment.
And, just in case things do go wrong, consider taking out travel insurance and have a back-up plan in mind -- where you'll go and stay -- so at least you can salvage something from the experience.
Better yet, here's hoping the 2012 Olympic Games are peaceful and, if you're going, that the scammers leave you free to enjoy yourself!
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!