How to Avoid Travel Scams
PAY NOW, TRAVEL LATER ... MAYBE
Typically, scam operators won't give you full and complete information in writing until after you've given them a credit card number, certified check or money order. Once you do get further information, there will be restrictions and conditions which may make it more expensive, or even impossible, to take your trip.
While getting a refund is sometimes possible, it's better to avoid paying anything in the first place. While there is the remote chance that you might miss a legitimate deal, chances are you will save yourself time and money in the long run.
To help avoid being a victim of a travel scam, ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents) provides the following suggestions when evaluating travel offers:
- Retain a healthy dose of skepticism. Be extremely skeptical about unsolicited e-mail, postcard and phone solicitations saying you've been selected to receive a fabulous vacation or anything free. Be especially wary of firms requiring you to wait at least 60 days to take your trip.
- Do your homework. Some offers might sound great on the surface, but be sure to read the fine-print. Certain offers impose so many requirements and restrictions, such as black-out dates and companion fees, that you will either never have the chance to take the trip or you will end up paying more than had you made the arrangements on your own or used an ASTA travel agent
- Run a "background check." You should vet the companies from which you purchase travel services. You can do this by checking to see if they are members of ASTA or by searching for the company on the Better Business Bureau's Web site. Other sites to check are www.complaintsboard.com and www.ripoffreport.com.
- Keep private information private. Never give out your credit card number unless you initiate the transaction and you are confident about the company with which you are doing business.
- Get the facts. You should receive complete details in writing about any trip prior to payment. These details should include the total price; cancellation and change penalties, if any; and specific information about all components of the package.
- Follow up. Once you have the complete details of your trip, contact the hotel and transportation companies on your own to make certain the reservations have been made.
- Know where you stand. If you insist on replying to an e-mail or calling a 900-number in response to a travel solicitation, understand the charges and know the risks.
- Know when to fold 'em. Know when to walk away. High-pressure sales presentations that don't allow you time to evaluate the offer, or which require that you disclose your income are red flags to be heeded.
- Protect yourself. Always pay with a credit card if possible. Even legitimate companies can go out of business. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, credit card customers have the right to refuse paying for charges for services not rendered. Details of the Fair Credit Billing Act can be found at the Federal Trade Commission's Web site.
If you think you've been scammed, contact your local Better Business Bureau, your local or state Consumer Affairs Office, state attorney general's office, or email ASTA's Consumer Affairs Department at firstname.lastname@example.org for information and assistance.
SPORTS TRAVEL PACKAGES
Often you will find advertisements for travel packages to major sporting events, like the Super Bowl, the Daytona 500 or the World Series. Many of these offers are legitimate, but there have been instances in the past where consumers have been scammed by unscrupulous vendors who never had tickets to the event.
"Every year, we hear reports of sports fans whose travel plans were ruined by a questionable organization with an offer that sounded too good to be true," said ASTA President and Chair, Chris Russo CTC. "A good travel agent knows which questions to ask and what to look for in a legitimate sports travel package. Many people aren't aware, for instance, that under the U.S. government's 'Truth in Ticketing' rules, a tour operator advertising a Super Bowl travel package that includes a flight and game tickets must have the game tickets in hand or have a written contract for the tickets before they can even advertise."
Before you buy a sports travel package, be sure to carefully read the tour brochure and any other solicitation material and pay by credit card, where possible, so you can be protected under federal fair credit practice laws.
AGENT CREDENTIALS FROM 'CARD MILLS'
Beware of offers from companies that sell questionable travel agent credentials. Consumers may be led to believe that such cards allow them to travel at free or reduced rates.
Organizations making these offers are known throughout the travel industry as "card mills" because they routinely offer credentials by the thousands in the form of an identification card that is sold for a significant fee. In turn, these cards would presumably be accepted by every segment of the travel industry. Many suppliers of travel, however, do not accept them.
For more information, see What Consumers and Consumer Protection Agencies Should Know About Travel Industry Card Mills by the ASTA.
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