|This article has been updated as of February, 2011. |
Better Business Bureaus across the United States and Canada are warning consumers about an increase in deceptive travel-related offers.
Consumers are contacting the BBB to inquire about travel companies that promise "too-good-to-be-true" travel deals. These offers arrive unexpectedly in consumers' mailboxes, or over the telephone, office fax machine or Internet.
Typically, the consumer is told that they have won a "free" trip and must call a number to claim their prize. Or they receive a fax at their place of business promoting an unbelievable vacation deal that looks as if it came through inter-office channels. Others were contacted by someone offering a travel club membership, allegedly worth thousand of dollars.
According to BBB experiences, some bogus promoters have been known to take consumers' money, without providing the travel or trip that was promised. Other promoters advertise rock-bottom prices, but hide certain fees until the deal is sealed. Some promise luxurious accommodations and services, but deliver far less. Still others don't reveal that the deal includes an obligation to sit through a timeshare pitch at the destination. Finally, some promoters guarantee consumers that they can get a full refund if they decide to cancel the trip, but fail to make good on their promise.
Consumers are encouraged to obtain the names, addresses and telephone numbers for the lodgings, airlines and cruise ships advertised in a vacation promotion.
Fraudulent travel deals can be hard to distinguish from legitimate ones. Their intent is to lure people into buying vacations that they otherwise would not consider.
The BBB recommends that consumers get the details of the promotion in writing, including the refund and cancellation policy, before they send a check or provide credit card number information. If asked to provide a credit card or bank account number for verification or identification, the BBB says to reconsider. This information can be used to make fraudulent charges or debits to the consumer's accounts.
If you are tempted to respond to online travel solicitations, the BBB recommends that you not judge the agency solely by the appearance of its website. Online travel scams are increasing in part because it is easy to disguise your identity in cyberspace.