From fake parking lots to credit card tricks, travel scam artists have you in their sights: Internet Scambusters #548
Last week, we gave you the lowdown on 7 of the latest travel scam tricks for 2013. This week, we have another 7!
They include new variations of old tricks -- like setting up bogus parking lots -- to a new series of "good Samaritan" scams aimed at relieving travelers of their money when they buy train tickets.
Then there's the "helpful" con artist who tells you the venue you planned to visit is closed, but he has something else to show you. All this and more in this issue.
And now for the main feature...
Travel Scam Alert 2013 Part 2: 7 More Vacation Tricks
As we reported last week, we had so many vacation scam incidents that we had to produce a second issue covering some of the new tricks travelers may encounter this vacation season.
If you missed last week's issue, you may want to check out the 7 scams we listed in Travel Scam Alert 2013 Part 1: 7 Tricks to Watch For.
Now, here are another 7 scams you need to be on the lookout for during your vacations this year.
1. Bogus Parking Lots
As we reported in a special parking lot issue a long time ago, Parking Lot Scam Alert! Crooks on Patrol for Victims, crooks will turn land or other lots they don't own -- even those around empty businesses -- into temporary parking spaces.
With many vacation resorts becoming overcrowded at this time of year, it's often tough to find suitable off-street parking, providing a golden opportunity for the scammers.
They often work in teams and use ropes or chains to cordon off an area and make the whole thing look official.
This scam is seriously on the rise.
It's a big problem in crowded cities of old-Europe but it's happening in the US too, most recently in the French Quarter of New Orleans, where victims were charged $20 per vehicle, and then returned to find their cars had been impounded for illegal parking.
Action: Mostly, these crooks operate at night so be extra careful then.
Use the Internet to identify official parking sites/structures in places you plan to visit.
Check if the land/lot seems to be part of a business property that is deserted.
2. Hotel Malware Email
With this scam, you receive an email seeming to confirm a hotel booking that you didn't make.
It purports to come from one of the Internet's biggest hotel agencies -- booking.com -- and says that your credit card payment has been declined.
There's an attachment, which you might be tempted to click, regardless of whether or not you made a booking, but if you do you'll either download malware onto your PC or be asked to "reconfirm" credit card details -- providing the crooks with your card number for their own use.
Action: Don't click on this type of attachment.
Always find and go to the real website of the supposed sender and do your checking there.
Watch out for a similar trick we've previously reported where you're asked to validate an airline booking or in which you receive "free" travel vouchers -- in both cases, scammers are after your personal information.
3, 4 & 5. Ticket Tricksters
This is really three scams in one.
Europeans love to travel by train. If you do too, you'll know that mainline stations are often overcrowded, with long lines at the ticket booths.
So you're delighted when a helpful local person guides you to a ticket-issuing machine, where you can save time.
The machine is genuine enough but the person who took you there either intends to pick your pocket while you're struggling with the machine (Scam #1), or capture your credit or debit card using a device previously inserted in the machine, having now watched you key in your PIN (Scam #2).
If you're paying with cash, prepare for a sneaky variation.
In this case, the scammer offers to use the machine for you. He indicates the cost, you give him the money, he buys a cheaper ticket to a different destination and pockets the difference (Scam #3).
Action: Don't go with strangers!
If you can, buy your tickets in advance -- often easy to do on the Internet these days.
And if you're traveling alone, always be wary about using card "eating" machines, whether at stations or ATMs -- if it's lost, you need someone to stand guard while you fetch help.
6. Closed For Business
You're about to visit a famous monument when a local approaches and tells you it's closed for a couple of hours.
He offers to take you to another venue close by, in his taxi or rickshaw, and then bring you back when the main attraction reopens.
He may just be touting for business or there may be a more sinister motive. Either way, he's after your money.
Action: Check the venue for yourself. And be extremely wary about any solicitation to take you for a ride -- because, figuratively, that's almost certainly what will happen.
7. Restaurant Card Tricks
This one is a simple con trick that doesn't necessarily leave you out of pocket but might leave you fuming.
In Mexico -- though it could happen anywhere -- some restaurants post signs saying they accept credit cards, but, after you finish your meal, they tell you their card machine is broken and invite you to pay with cash.
Somehow, the waiter always seems to know where the nearest ATM is.
The gain for the restaurants is they don't have to pay card processing and handling fees. But you'll be paying instantly instead of deferring it until your card bill comes due, as well as being subjected to inconvenience.
In a variation, in the African country of Zanzibar, a hotelier, presented with a traveler's credit card, insisted on converting the local-currency bill to US dollars, with a healthy markup on the exchange rate!
Action: Nothing much you can do about the first trick, though you can make clear, after the fact, that you won't be returning.
With the second incident, we've warned about exchange rate tricksters before. Ask in advance to ensure you can pay in local currency (although you may then have to pay your card company a foreign transaction fee).
By the way, did you catch our earlier issue about the dangers of scanning QR codes with your mobile device at tourist monuments?
If not, check out 5 Ways to Avoid a QR Code Scam.
And look out for an upcoming report on phony gourmet food and fish dishes -- another scam you could easily encounter on vacation.
Finally, a reminder that even if you're not vacationing at this time, you're still at risk of being caught out by another common travel-related scam -- the emergency email that claims one of your friends or relatives is trapped abroad.
The bottom line is always a request that you wire money so they can get home. Save your money -- they're already at home, as you will surely confirm if you contact them directly. It's just another travel scam!
Time to close today, but we'll be back next week with another issue. See you then!