With Memorial Day approaching and summer not far behind, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is advising consumers on how to spot and avoid the threat of vacation and travel-related fraud.
Vacation scams cost consumers over $10 billion each year. Out of the 3,900 industries the BBB monitors, the travel industry consistently ranks near or in the top 25 for number of complaints.
“The BBB System continues to see vacation and travel-related fraud cases in every one of our 128 BBBs across the United States and Canada,” said Steve Cole, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. “Before booking travel plans, consumers need to do their research and check with the BBB for trustworthy advice on dependable businesses to keep from getting burned this summer.”
BBBs from San Diego, CA to Savannah, GA, have recently reported fraudulent activities from travel-related businesses including:
- A San Diego-based firm selling discounted vacation packages on eBay to Hawaii, Mexico and the Virgin Islands scammed consumers across the U.S. out of several hundred to more than $5,000 throughout 2006 and early 2007.
Travelers were tricked with bait and switch tactics and ended up paying much more for the vacation packages than they planned. After paying for the vacations, some consumers also found that rooms, travel, and other reservations were made with invalid credit cards, or never booked at all.
- The BBB serving Savannah and the surrounding area recently helped several residents get refunds approaching $11,000 from a company conducting seminars in local hotels that promised travel incentives, discounts and assistance in becoming a “travel agent.”
The Savannah BBB found that the Branson, MO-based company routinely charged consumers membership, administrative, and renewal fees that greatly exceeded any discount on vacation packages, and that much of the information ‘sold’ by the company could be found elsewhere free-of-charge to consumers.
BBB reliability reports – more than three million business and charity reports are freely available to the public through the www.bbb.org Web site.
“The BBB evaluates businesses using our time-tested set of standards,” said Cole. “There are many reputable travel agents, bureaus and clubs to choose from, and we want consumers to know they can start their search for these reliable companies with the BBB.”
- Gather Information. Don’t be fooled by professional looking Web sites or e-mails. Few legitimate businesses can afford to give away products and services of real value or substantially undercut other companies’ prices. Visit the BBB Web site, www.bbb.org, or call the BBB for a free reliability report on the travel company making the offer.
- Ask detailed questions and get it in writing. Get names of airlines, hotels, car rental companies and travel providers. Consider contacting these businesses directly to verify arrangements. Always ask for confirmation of your travel arrangements in writing and ensure you receive copies of cancellation and refund policies.
- Pay with a credit card and avoid deals that require you to book 60 days in advance. Credit card companies may allow consumers to dispute a charge within 60 days of purchase. Representatives from eBay also caution consumers against paying with personal checks and strongly recommend paying with a method such as PayPal that has built-in protection measures.
- Contact the BBB if you are a victim of fraud. The BBB helps consumers and businesses through complaint and dispute resolution services. Victims of travel-related scams can visit www.bbb.org or call the BBB to file a complaint. Ultimately, consumer complaints expose bad businesses and help other consumers avoid becoming victims of vacation and travel-related fraud.