BBB lists top vacation-related scams

Image courtesy of bplanet at
Image courtesy of bplanet at

As you begin to plan for upcoming vacations, Your BBB would like you to beware of scams that can turn a dream vacation into a nightmare.

Below are some of the top scams that target consumers on vacation:

  1. Vacation Rental Scams

Vacation rental scams typically show up on online classified sites. A potential victim searching for an apartment or home in a desirable destination may find an attractive rental at a very low price. The consumer contacts the “owner” (who is actually a scam artist), and is asked to make a deposit in advance (often via wire transfer or pre-paid debit card). The victim later discovers the property either does not exist, that the condition was misrepresented, or the property was never available for rent. Scammers often use images from real estate sites to make their scams seem legitimate.

Tips to avoid this scam:

  • Use Google Earth and Street View to confirm the property you’re renting actually exists at the address advertised.
  • Run an online search of the names and phone numbers of the alleged landlord or agent and “chunks” of the ad’s descriptive text to see whether it has been copied from elsewhere online.
  • If the “landlord” insists on communicating by email only, that’s a huge red flag. Many rental scams are carried out by foreign scammers, so check the area code and try to talk by phone with the potential landlord, booking or listing agent or travel coordinator when possible.
  1. Fraudulent Vacation Packages

With this scam, a victim sees an ad for a deeply discounted vacation package involving a stay at a fancy resort or a luxurious cruise. After paying the deposit, the victim finds that quality of the package was severely misrepresented and/or discovers significant additional fees that must be paid at the destination in order to take advantage of the “great deal.” Efforts to recover deposits are generally unsuccessful.

Tips to avoid this scam:

  • Read your invoice. Confirm that it includes every cost, including fees. Take the time to understand the purpose and amount of each fee. Some common hidden fees to watch out for: International Departure and Arrival Taxes, Processing Fees, Peak Week Surcharges, Late Booking Fees, Departure City Surcharges, Travel Insurance, Fuel Surcharges.
  • ​Read the cancellation policies before sending any money, you should know how much you will lose if you need to cancel. ​
  • Never pay upfront for any vacation package with a wire transfer or prepaid debit card. Use a credit card or PayPal and negotiate paying only a deposit when possible.
  1. ‘Free Vacation’ Scams

You may receive a postcard saying you have won a free vacation or one of many other lesser prizes.  Generally, you have to call a number to claim your prize. When you do, they offer to send information about the vacation package in the mail after you provide a credit card number so they can assess a “small service charge” at the time you accept the vacation.

Despite being told before you signed that you will be able to cancel the package without being charged, your account is charged right away. The review period will already have expired by the time you receive your packet, if you are even sent one.  Meanwhile, hundreds of dollars in service fees will hit your account.

In another version of this scam, you may be required to attend a high pressure sales pitch for a “club” membership. Those who sign up often discover the membership fees cost more than what they would have normally paid for a vacation. Also, there may be restrictions that make it almost impossible to accept the “free” vacation offer.

Tips to avoid these scams:

  • Don’t be fooled by low cost or no cost vacation offers. They typically fail to disclose all related fees and have many restrictions.
  • Obtain all company information. Avoid travel offers received in the mail, over the phone, fax, email,  or at a presentation that do not disclose the company’s name, location, and contacts.
  • Get everything in writing before providing any payment. If you attend a presentation for a timeshare or travel club, make sure all verbal promises are provided in writing. Review all terms and conditions carefully before making a decision.
  • Read the fine print. Make sure you understand all terms and conditions of a travel offer as well as any cancellation and refund policies.
  1. Pizza Delivery ID theft scam

​A scam reported by hotels around the U.S. involves a fake pizza delivery ad slipped under the door. Scam artists can use fake ads to collect credit card and other sensitive information from consumers trying to place an order.

Tips to avoid this scam: 

  • Don’t call a phone number on a flyer slipped under your hotel room door or under your windshield wiper in the parking lot until you’re sure it’s legitimate. Look up the number online or in the phone book if you can or contact hotel staff.
  • Don’t pay in advance with a credit card. Pay in cash.