Beware of free vacation offers
If you receive a phone call or postcard offering a free vacation, beware. There's a good chance your dream vacation may turn into a real nightmare if you aren't careful.
The hook used in a free vacation scam
In some travel scams, the consumer is sent a postcard saying he has won a free vacation. In others, the "vacation" is one of several prizes in a sweepstakes. In most cases, the consumer is required to call a number for more details or to "claim" the prize.
In one version of the scam, the consumer is told he will receive a package in the mail detailing the vacation offer. The operator then asks for his credit card number, saying there will be a small service charge made to his account if he accepts the vacation. The consumer is assured he will have a review period to decide if he wants the package before his account is billed for the service charge. This promise usually proves to be false.
According to calls made to the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Hotline, these companies are slow in sending the vacation package materials and when they do arrive, the review period already has expired. The firm quickly bills the consumer's credit card for hundreds of dollars for its "service fee."
Other travel scams
In other scams, a consumer is offered a "dream vacation" for an incredibly low price. After the consumer agrees and discloses his credit card number, he learns the catch: To qualify he has to buy a second round-trip fare at "regular price" -- only this price may cost two or three times more than it would if he bought his ticket in advance or from an airline or reputable travel agency.
In other instances the salesperson fails to mention that the "free" vacation doesn't include meals, taxes, deposits or surcharges.
In a similar scam, consumers win a "free" vacation when they pay several hundred dollars to join a travel club. The problem? When the consumer picks dates and tries to book the trip, he is told all of those dates are unavailable or already booked.
A similar twist played by some con artists involves selling consumers "discount travel packages." What the consumer actually buys, however, may be a book containing coupons and discounts available for free to all vacationers from chambers of commerce and business promoters.
The end result in vacation scams is when you finally are ready to take the trip, the company has disconnected its phones, moved or closed without notifying you or issuing a refund.
Avoiding travel scams
Tips to avoid becoming the victim of a travel scam
- Don't give your credit card number to any person or business unless you expect to be charged for a product or service.
- Be wary of ads that have few details and promise a lot for little money.
- Be cautious of firms that ask you to pay before confirming reservations. Most reputable travel agents will confirm before payment.
- Deal with an established firm. If a firm is unfamiliar to you, check with relatives, friends or the Better Business Bureau.
- If you are unfamiliar with the firm, request written information on total cost of the vacation and all items included. Any transportation, lodging, meals or other items not specifically mentioned may not be included.
- Ask about your right to cancel. If you get ill or change plans you could end up paying for a trip you never take. Also inquire about the availability of cancellation insurance.
- Be wary of vacation offers that are "good today only."
- Remember, the better a vacation package sounds the more thoroughly you need to verify the package's details.