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Ready to vacation? Vaccinated? Masks at the ready? Sanitizer and wipes handy? Scam radar switched on?

Americans are ready to travel after over a year of postponing vacations, family visits, and travel in general. Demand is high and increasing for plane tickets, car rentals, and resort accommodations. As just one example, try renting a car in Florida or California. Availability is limited and prices are easily topping $100 a day for compact or mid-size rentals.

High demand plus low supply equals increased prices plus scams. As we have seen so many times during the COVID-19 crisis, criminals are quick to step in and take advantage of a perfect storm.

This column has warned in the past about the dangers of letting emotion take over and vacation planning opens up another door to emotions. So what are the tips and approaches to take as we move into the summer vacation season?

1) If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is! Offers of free or extremely low cost vacations are, at best, slick marketing campaigns for the sale of timeshare properties or extended vacation plans. At worst, they are scams used to commit financial and identity theft. Avoid these promotions. In general, companies do not profit by giving everything away!

2) Robocall and spam text offers involving recognizable travel brands such as Hertz, Avis, Hilton, Hotels.com, or cruise lines may seem attractive but, once again, are likely scams. If you are attracted to one of these promotions, conduct due diligence. Contact the company named in the offer using verifiable information and ask if the offer is legitimate. If it is a scam, the real company will want to know.

3) Beware of rental vacation properties at discounted prices. Currently, the pent-up demand for rentals in traditional vacation destinations has pushed prices to the highest levels in years. Criminals know this and utilize attractive pricing and slick graphics, often on recognizable websites such as Air B&B, to lure bargain-hunting vacationers. In some situations, after payments were made, the would-be vacationers arrived at the property to discover that the deal was a scam. Do some quick research before “snapping up” one of these great deals. Check out the promoter and location before placing any deposit on the property (run away from the “deal” if it involves the use of gift cards). Use Google Earth or maps to obtain a “street-level” view of the property. Contact the Better Business Bureau for any negative reports regarding the property or the owner. Yes, this takes time but you’ve waited a year. While the deal may be lost, another week devoted to research may avoid victimization.

4) Beware of websites reached from pop-up advertisements. These pop-ups are triggered from the sale of search data by internet companies (Search car rentals and in a short period of time you will be seeing pop-ups for car rentals). While it’s possible that the data behind these ads were purchased by legitimate companies, the purchase, or theft of the data could have been by criminals. Be observant if you enter these websites. Check the URL (address line) of the web page noting the source of the page. A URL such as www.joesdiscounttravel.com displaying graphics identical to the Delta Airlines web page should be an immediate reason for skepticism.

5) When making advance payments for vacation expenses, always use a credit card, never a gift card or debit card. Credit card companies provide services and protections when charges are fraudulent. Debit card and gift card purchases afford less protection and the likelihood of losses is quite high.

6) When booking travel plans online, use a Virtual Private Network. VPN software can be purchased and installed to provide an extra layer of protection to your computer and communications Don’t let falling “under the ether” (high state of emotion) or lack of attention to details ruin a vacation and result in major losses.

Want a free list of fraud-fighting resources? Questions? Comments? Contact me at egreenblott@aarp.org.

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and coordinator of the AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network. He hosts a CATV program, Mr. Scammer, distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland, Vt. – www.gnat-tv.org.


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