Traveling is one of the greatest joys in life, especially during retirement. Many of us dream of the vacations we will take when we finally have the time, but nothing puts a bigger damper on a vacation than being scammed. Thankfully, travel scams are easy to spot once you know what to look out for.
Even so, thousands of seniors are scammed out of their retirement vacation funds every year. Scammers are great at what they do, and they know how just the right things to get our buy in.
Scams can come in many forms, including vacation clubs, timeshares, vacation certificates, shady travel agents, and more. And knowing how to spot and avoid these scams is the best defense we have against falling victim to them.
Below we cover the top nine travel scams, how they work and how to avoid them.
- Vacation Clubs
- Discounted Vacation Certificates
- Fake Travel Agent
- Free Trips
- Bait and Switch Vacation Deals
- Currency exchange
- Fake Tickets
- While You Are Gone
Vacation clubs are similar to timeshares. You pay a set amount to receive a discount on future vacations at specific places. Unlike timeshares, these vacations can be as short as one to two days.
After many people sign up, they find out that they may actually be paying more than they could have without the club. Often there are additional fees not discussed up front, which all add up in the end.
Another aspect of this scam is that people find out after signing up that there are several blackout dates, and they are unable to use vacation clubs during peak seasons.
Though there are several legitimate vacation clubs available it is best to do your research before signing up. Be especially wary of any club that is promoted through a multi-level marketing model.
One of the best things that you can do when learning about a new vacation club company is to check with the Better Business Bureau. It’s also worth putting the companies name in your search engine along with the word scam. If the company in question has been investigated for scams that will show up here.
Finally, before providing personal information and paying for the vacation club, it is best to ask for the policy, list of fees, and blackout dates ahead of time. If the company is unwilling to provide this information, it is best to pass on this opportunity.
Have you ever been invited to a nice dinner only to find out that it is a timeshare presentation? These presentations show the best side of the islands, the best condos, beautiful sunsets, and people relaxing on the beach. And really, who wouldn’t love having a timeshare in such a paradise?
Unfortunately, many timeshares are not the paradise they seem to be; instead, they turn out to be an absolute disaster full of hidden fees. It is not unusual for people to get roped into a timeshare scam only to find out they can’t afford the cost.
To make things worse, there is a second scam people selling their timeshares fall into, and it is one of the most costly vacation scams. When people realize they can’t afford the timeshare and they need to sell they may search for an agent for assistance.
Some of these agents are very shady and will charge a large fee they claim you will recoup at this the time of the sale of your timeshare. Unfortunately, for most, they never hear from the agent again.
If you ever find yourself with a timeshare you can no longer afford it is best to work with the rental agency to see if they will buy back the timeshare. If the agency you purchased it is unable to assist you, you may want to try renting it to get some of your money back.
Discounted Vacation Certificates
Vacation certificates are a popular scam because they require money upfront. These travel certificates are very appealing because they come at a discounted price. Unfortunately, many of these discounts are counterfeit and will not save you a dime.
When unsuspecting travelers redeem their vacation certificate, they find out they have been scammed, and no such certificate exists, or they find out that it is only valid on set dates. And in some cases, additional fees are charged for activating the certificate, causing you to lose even more money.
When the consumer attempts to contact the company they bought the certificate from, many are unable to locate any contact information, or the information they do find leads nowhere.
Many of these vacation discount certificate scams are initiated through a phone call or an email. Scammers can find out information from other companies by purchasing lists of who has visited travel sites giving these criminals the ability to target would-be vacationers.
If you receive an unsolicited phone call or email, it is best to ignore it, as many scams start this way. If you are still curious about the promotion they’re offering, do your due diligence and research the company before committing to purchase a vacation certificate.
Additionally, you never want to click on a link in an unsolicited email, as it may be the gateway for allowing the scammer to install malware onto your computer. Scammers using malware can obtain your information such as credit card numbers, bank account information, and passwords.
Fake Travel Agent
Fake travel agents have scammed hundreds of thousands of dollars by selling fake vacation packages to unsuspecting travelers. One such travel agent was arrested in 2019 for stealing more than $400,000 from her victims.
In many of these scams, the fake travel agent will claim to make travel arrangements, including flights, car rentals, accommodations, and booking any activities such as scuba diving, tickets to shows, or reservations for dining.
After taking your credit card information, they will ring up fake charges and send you false confirmation numbers. Unsuspecting victims of this scam usually find out that they have been scammed when it’s time to go on vacation.
Other travel agents that scam would-be travelers overcharge for the travel arrangements and accommodations. Travelers often find themselves with less than satisfactory travel arrangements for the prices they were charged. Many of these victims are essentially charged for five-star hotels only to find themselves at motel-style accommodations instead.
Several legitimate travel agencies offer excellent vacation packages; the trick is finding an honest travel agent first. One of the best ways to find a reliable agent is by getting recommendations from friends and family. It is always recommended that you look into the company or agent you have chosen.
Also, it is best to know what things cost before signing up with one of these agents; that way, you’ll have a better idea of whether or not you’re getting a discounted price or if you’re paying more than you should.
Who wouldn’t love to get a free trip? Unfortunately, many of these free trips come with strings, if not a high price tag. Often these free trip giveaways are a way to draw people in for a timeshare presentation. However, the other free trip scam is just a way for a criminal to steal your personal information.
Free vacation scams involving timeshares often tell winners that they need to attend a dinner to accept the free vacation. At the dinner, they are then treated to a presentation about this company’s timeshare. The timeshare representative later announces that after signing up for a timeshare, you will then receive a few nights free as a form of your free vacation.
The other free vacation scam often starts as a phone call informing you that you are the winner of a free vacation. However, to reserve your spot for the free vacation, they require you to provide a credit card number. Unfortunately, many people are so excited about winning a free vacation they do not hesitate to provide the requested information.
The best way to avoid free vacation scams is never to provide your credit card information on a cold call. Remember to ask questions about requirements for redeeming the free vacation, as well as any additional fees. Also, inquire about policies and guidelines for the free vacation in writing. And, of course, always take the time to research the company.
Bait and Switch Travel Deals
Bait and switch scams have been around since the beginning of time. Sometimes it can be difficult to determine what you’re going to get when making travel arrangements, especially when it comes to hotels, resorts, and vacation rentals. Many of us depend on the website’s photos to determine how nice a place is or isn’t.
The most common bait and switch scam are to provide older photos from when the place was new. All too often, in bait and switch scams, travelers find themselves in an old, rundown dump with no way to get their money back.
One red flag to tell if a hotel isn’t what it seems to be is if the website is outdated. Another great way to determine if the hotel resort you’re looking into is as good as it seems is to check out reviews on a third-party website. Finally, running the company name through Bedbug Reports is a great way to determine the type of place you are booking. Remember, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
A common international travel scam is taking advantage of those who lack knowledge of the country’s currency. In some situations, people are shortchanged or unfair exchange rates are given. And on some occasions, you might be misled if you’re requesting help identifying the currency when purchasing something.
The best way to avoid a currency exchange scam is to familiarize yourself with the country’s currency to be able to identify the different bills and coins easily.
Additionally, it is a good idea to check current exchange rates before exchanging your currency. Also, using an ATM is one of the easiest ways to avoid being ripped off.
Buying fake tickets is an easy way to lose money. Scammers know that tourists enjoy taking tours or attending events in the area. Today it is all too easy to create counterfeit tickets for different activities.
Most of these scams start with someone approaching you in a touristy area of town offering to sell you discounted tickets for different events. It is not unusual to see vendors selling tickets in this fashion, which is why no one thinks twice when purchasing them.
To avoid these scams, it is best to directly purchase your tickets from the company or legitimate vendors like Stub Hub. And if you are looking for a deal, try purchasing tickets online before you go since many companies will offer early-bird promotions on their website.
While You Are Gone
Though home burglary is not necessarily a scam, it is something travelers need to be wary of. Be careful who you tell about your vacation and how long you will be gone. Many of us get excited and happen to mention it in passing, which is understandable, but criminals will use this information to burglarize your home.
You don’t need to be secretive about your travels; it is best to be aware of your surroundings when you’re chatting about it. Also, it is best to use discretion on who you happen to tell. While you are gone, you may want to ask a friend or family member to check on your home from time to time. Remember to cancel your mail or newspaper since a build-up of either is an indicator to others that no one is home.