Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern Coastal California offers advice on how to plan a safe and fun last-minute vacation without falling for travel scams or pitfalls.
It’s the height of summer, and there’s no better time to take a vacation! Maybe you previously didn’t think you had the time or resources to get away, but now you’re able to. Or perhaps you’ve procrastinated on planning and all of a sudden your trip is right around the corner. Either way, it’s time to plan a last-minute vacation!
Although the opportunity to get away is positive, the stress of last-minute planning can sometimes drive consumers to fall for scams or other vacation pitfalls. As of July 15th, more than 300 scams related to travel and vacations have been reported to BBB Scam Tracker nationally, with total losses of over $400,000. These scams can be even more costly than you’d think: although they are only the 17th most reported, they take the 12th spot when ordered by money lost per victim – at $1,287 it’s almost double the average reported money lost by a victim from a scam. Some are reports of unsolicited fake free trips or vacation packages, vacation rental and time share scams, fraudulent booking websites, and shady “travel agents”.
Your BBB offers the following advice on how to plan a fun, safe, and relaxing vacation while avoiding travel scams and shady deals:
- Pay securely: When away, pay with a credit card - but bring enough cash for emergencies. A credit card can protect you in ways that a debit card can’t. However, make sure to contact your card provider and bank to let them know about your trip to avoid any surprising card suspensions. Bring cash in case this happens, but don’t keep it all in one place in case of theft. Keep an eye on your credit card statement to make sure it hasn’t been compromised.
- Rent wisely: If you choose to rent a house or apartment rather than a hotel, be very wary of vacation rental scams. Scams frequently pop up on online classified sites. Usually the rental is for an exceptionally good price and you have to put down a “deposit”, mainly through wire transfer. Don’t be fooled by photography, as this can be fake; and do a lot of research on the property and names and numbers of agents before booking. Consider it a red flag if you have to put down a deposit and can’t use a credit card.
- Vacation packages: They’re a great way to plan a trip quickly. However, make sure your package isn’t fraudulent; read the invoice carefully to see what it includes and if you’ll be charged for anything additional. Don’t pay deposits using wire transfer, and make sure you also read and understand the cancellation policy.
- Start with trust: Using a travel agent can also be a great way to plan a vacation in one step. However, nationally, BBB received almost 9,000 complaints about travel agencies and bureaus in 2015, making them the 14th most complained about type of business. Make sure to only use trustworthy agencies and do your research on bbb.org first.
- Surf online securely: When booking, do your research and use only trustworthy websites. Check out travel booking companies at bbb.org, and know the signs of a fake website. Make sure websites start with “https://”, where the “s” stands for secure, and don’t give away any unnecessary personal information.
- Watch out: If you’re randomly sent a postcard or email claiming you’ve won a free vacation, don’t believe it. It’s probably a scam. In fact, “sweepstakes/lottery/prizes” is the 3rd most reported scam category reported to BBB Scam Tracker as of mid-July 2016. As always, with deals that seem “too good to be true” – they probably are.
- Get details: Get all details in writing and take documentation with you. Make sure you have a record of all important purchases, and have these on you in case you need to prove anything.
- Safety first: While you’re away, keep your home safe. Ask a friend or family member to watch your house while you’re gone. Avoid posting about your vacation on social media until you’re back. Although it’s difficult to resist showing off, you’re also advertising to thieves that your place is empty.
- Avoid the risks: As always when on vacation, be vigilant and safe. Beware of unsecured Wi-Fi networks that could be stealing information, keep your valuables on you or locked away, and be generally cautious.
It’s important to be safe when planning a last-minute vacation – but it’s also important for it to be relatively easy. To make travel planning as simple as possible, look for packages, all-inclusive deals, last-minute cancellations, and tours. Make sure to comparison shop as well; don’t choose the first hotel or flight you. Be flexible about destinations and keep it simple – the point, after all, is to relax and have fun!