You don't have to be a vacationer to fall for some travel scams: Internet Scambusters #599
It's vacation season and travel scam artists already have a new set of tricks lined up for you.
This week we have the lowdown on five new tricks -- bogus distress calls, phony hotel Internet access, overpriced pedicabs, ATM distraction gangs, and drug-infused luggage prizes.
Plus, we have a warning for soccer fans planning to visit or watch the World Cup games in Brazil.
Now, here we go...
5 New Travel Scams
Reporting on travel scams has sadly become an annual ritual for the Scambusters team.
Every year, crooks come up with a new set of tricks to supplement the old and this year is no exception.
So if you're planning to travel this vacation season, or you know someone who is, watch out for these latest scams -- and be warned that they don't all apply just to travelers, as our first item shows.
New Distress Call Trick
We often caution readers against announcing vacations because of the risk burglars will strike while they're away.
But this year there's a new twist and it's a cunning variation of the distressed call or grandparent scam.
Crooks comb through Facebook looking for details of people's travel plans.
Then they identify friends of the vacationer and contact them by phone or email, posing as the traveler, claiming to be in trouble and in urgent need of money.
This is much more convincing than the regular grandparent scam because the crook already knows both the name of the person they're impersonating, their relationship with the traveler and where they are supposed to be vacationing, so the call can seem quite genuine.
Acton: What gives this trick and so many others away is that the crook always asks for money to be wired or a prepaid debit card to be used.
That's a red flag. But if you have reason to think it may be genuine, invent the name of a relative who might be with them and ask how they're doing.
Finally, ask for full address and contact details and check them out independently. For example, ask where they're staying, then get the accommodation phone number from the Internet and try to call them.
There's an outside chance that a friend or relative might be in trouble and need money but it's highly unlikely.
Hotel Internet Scam
If your vacation plans include a hotel stay, make sure you know and fully understand their Internet access package.
Mostly, these days, Wi-Fi access is free but a few hotels still make a charge, especially in Mexico and some overseas destinations.
But the real problem -- and this has happened in several places in the US -- is when a hacker creates a fake network that looks identical to the hotel's own setup.
When victims log on to the bogus network, they're told they have to pay and are asked for their credit card details.
So they're at double risk -- first of being ripped off and second of having their card details used for identity theft.
Action: If you're asked for your card details when you try to access the Internet in a hotel, it's likely a scam because the hotel probably already has these.
If you're in doubt and you haven't already checked, stop what you're doing and contact the front desk for details of the payment arrangements.
In some countries, including the US, pedicabs -- cycle-powered "rickshaws" -- are not as heavily regulated in the way that taxis are. They don't have meters, so, if you don't get a fare quote before you set out, you could easily be ripped off.
For example, the New York Post recently reported that a couple of tourists were charged $720 for a 20-minute ride.
The newspaper said that card-readers plugged into smartphones make it possible for drivers to accept credit cards, meaning that victims who are short of cash or don't understand the currency conversion are easier to trick.
Action: Ask the fare before you set off and, if you're abroad, make sure you know how much that is in dollars.
We advise that you should pay in cash anyway. Why would you want to give your card details to a "driver" you don't know?
ATM Distraction Gangs
We've written many times about the way crooks try to distract your attention while an accomplice steals your wallet.
But alarm is growing in some European destinations, notably Paris, France, of gangs who lurk at ATMs (or cashpoints as they're often called in Europe).
There might be five, six or even more, usually teenagers.
As the victim tries to withdraw cash, they all start tapping or talking to him/her. Eventually, they turn to pushing and jostling, during which time the money is grabbed either from the ATM or the victim's hands.
Action: Try to avoid using an ATM alone. Have someone else stand by to keep watch.
If not, try to use an ATM inside a bank -- and always keep your eyes peeled for groups of people milling around.
Drug smugglers have hit on a great way of tricking innocent travelers into "mules," transporting their illicit products.
They organize a competition in which the prize is two air tickets and a luggage set.
Then they conceal drugs in the suitcase linings and arrange for the suitcases to be "lifted" at the destination airport or hotel.
It's risky, since the winners might not use the new luggage, but incidents have been reported -- most recently in a shipment between Australia and Canada that was discovered by the winners themselves.
Their "prize" contained 3-½ kilos of methamphetamine.
Action: You have been warned!
Alert of the Week: If you're a soccer fan, beware of bogus ticket, travel package and sweepstake scams associated with the World Cup in Brazil, which runs from June 12 through July 13. Use only official sources and sites, starting with the organizing body -- Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!