Roanoke, VA – Spring break is just days away for some college students, but preparing for scams may have been left off their travel plans. It’s vital to think ahead as criminals are ready to capitalize on this annual migration to warmer pastures. BBB Serving Western VA warns vacationers to be aware of common spring break pitfalls.
“Con artists are well aware of how exciting this time of year is for students,” said Julie Wheeler, President and CEO of BBB Serving Western VA. “They love to turn that excitement into a payday for themselves.”
Scammers commonly target students on vacation. That’s why it’s important to have a plan in place before arriving at your destination. Here are some common vacation and spring break schemes:
Fake hotel wakeup scams. You’re asleep at your hotel when get a call from the front desk requesting you confirm your credit card details. Only it isn’t the front desk calling, it’s a scammer who will drain your accounts when he makes a copy of your card using the details you give him over the phone. Never give out credit card details over the phone. Go down to the front desk in person the next morning if there is a problem.
Free wifi. There’s nothing worse than using all your data while on vacation, but some of those free wifi connections you discover might be dangerous. Hackers set up tempting unsecured wifi hotspots in public locations that vacationers eagerly connect to, giving the thief access to your computer, passwords, online accounts, and more. Always ask the hotel/coffee shop/airport staff which wifi connection is the official one.
Broken taxi meter. You arrive at the airport and flag down a nearby cab driver. Once you get into the taxi and leave the airport, the driver says the meter is broken and then can charge you a ridiculous price. Be aware of rates ahead of time, or ensure the meter is, in fact, working before you get in the car. If the taxi driver refuses to turn on the meter or tells you it's cheaper without the meter, get out and opt for another driver.
Phony tours and excursions. That deal on Craigslist for a snorkeling trip may sound amazing, but it might also be a scam. Consider signing up for trips with established guides or ask your hotel for a list of outfits in the area they recommend.
Recreation rental scam. You rent a bicycle or a scooter, and the attendant gives you a lock and key. You lock up your rental to get lunch during your adventure, and return to find the rental(s) gone, likely taken by the very same attendant, who also had a second key. You are stuck with a hefty fee, if not the replacement cost of the item you rented. Don’t rent anything from anyone you haven’t checked out with locals you trust and make sure you have a written contract that clearly states what happens if the item is lost or damaged or stolen.
Follow these BBB tips for a headache-free trip:
Pay with a credit card. Paying with a credit card gives you additional protection if something should go wrong with the travel reservation.
Take duplicate copies of all credit cards and your passport with you in case the originals are stolen.
Call your credit card in advance to let them know you’ll be traveling so they won’t put a stop on your account.
Share a copy of your itinerary with a family member or friend. Include the contact information of someone joining you on your trip.
Protect your location on social media sites. Sharing too much information on your location may endanger your safety. Adjust your privacy settings and use your best judgment when checking in. Be cautious about revealing travel plans and personal information through status updates or tweets with Twitter trends like #SpringBreak and #SB2017.
Create a code word. Create a secret signal or code word to let your friends know when you are uncomfortable and need them to intervene. When you are with friends, arrive together and leave together. Before heading out, establish a place to meet in case you get separated.
Use hotel safes to store extra cash and keep any valuables under lock and key.
Here are some tips if you are still planning your trip:
Plan ahead. The early bird gets the worm. Allow yourself the time to research hotels, flights, and area where you’re staying. Typically, the earlier the reservations are made, the better the deals you will find and the lower the risk of your favorite destination being booked solid. Making reservations in advance also locks in rates and prevents you from paying higher prices later during prime spring break season.
Avoid broad internet searches. Try to avoid entering phrases like ‘best deals’ into whichever search engine you use. Broad search terms like that can sometimes lead you to websites that look official, but are designed solely to rip people off.
Be alert for travel scams. Watch out for phone calls or letters claiming that you’ve “won a trip” or websites offering prices that are too good to be true. It’s easy to extend questionable offers like these, but the vast majority of them leave hopeful travelers in limbo and out money.
Do your homework. Ask family and friends to recommend a travel agent or travel website and visit bbb.org for free Business Profiles. If you’re using services like Airbnb or VRBO to find accommodations, be sure to research the business and read customer reviews about any rentals you’re considering.
Get the trip details in writing. Before making final payment, get all the details of the trip in writing. This should include the total cost, restrictions, cancellation penalties, and names of the airlines and hotels. Also review and keep a copy of the airline and hotel’s cancellation and refund policies, as well as the cancellation policies of the travel agency or vacation website you’re using.
Consider travel insurance. Travel insurance is designed to cover such things as trip cancellations or medical emergencies. There are different levels of coverage based on what type of plan you purchase. Ask a lot of questions, and always read the fine print to see what’s covered and what’s not.
The BBB is a nonprofit, business-supported organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. The BBB provides objective advice, and free BBB Business Profiles on more than 4 million companies, 11,000 charity reviews, dispute resolution service, alerts and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. Please visit www.bbb.org for more information. Follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/BBBWesternVA and on Facebook at facebook.com/BBBWesternVA.
For more advice or information please visit www.bbb.org or contact the BBB Serving Western VA at (540) 342-3455 or (800) 533-5501.