Key takeaways

  • Travel scams are constantly evolving, and if you fall pray, your personal and financial information is at risk
  • Be wary of fake websites and scams that target you with texts, emails and phone calls
  • To avoid falling for a travel scam, always contact companies directly when conducting business

It seems almost everybody is eager to get out of town these days. A 2023 survey by The Vacationer found that nearly 85 percent of American adults plan to travel and 42 percent intend to travel more this year than they did last year. Consequently, millions of people are actively searching for the best bargains and are ready to snap up a deal when they find it.

Unfortunately, some criminals are determined to put a wrench in your good time by exploiting your excitement. Scams are constantly changing and adapting, so as travel heats up, so do fraudsters.

Here are the most common travel scams to spot and avoid today. If you don’t, not only can your vacation be ruined, but your credit and finances can also be hurt.

Bogus travel booking websites

When planning your vacation, you may encounter spoofed travel booking websites. They can be similar in appearance to companies you’d typically do business with, such as airlines, hotels, rental cars and even TSA PreCheck.

These bogus sites may pop up at the top of your search engine when you type them in, says Alex Hamerstone, cyber expert and advisory solutions director at TrustedSec, an information security consulting organization.

“It’s easy to duplicate a website and manipulate search results,” says Hamerstone. “The ads you see for them online can be just spoofs, though. They copy the real sites very well and get you to book your plans with it, but they’re just taking your personal and credit card data.”

Too-good-to-be-true vacation rental listings

Imagine you’re looking for a vacation rental home and find the perfect place. And according to the listing, it has everything you’re seeking, so you request more information, which the agent or owner sends. Perfect! You put a deposit down with your credit card.

Then you show up and knock on the door for the keys, and instead of the agent or owner, it’s the surprised and legitimate occupant.

Fake vacation rental listings are all too real. “This is easy for the scammers to do,” says Hamerstone. “They take a real estate listing that has a photo, then copy it to create a fake rental listing. We get many stories of people showing up at a house and the people who live there are shocked when they open the door.”

The scammers will take the money you put down as a deposit, but typically make additional charges. To further ruin your vacation, there may not be a hotel or vacation rental available by that point.

Fake travel deal texts

How convenient that an amazing discount comes to you via text! For example, you may receive a message from the hotel chain where you have already booked rooms, and they’re reaching out to let you know you now qualify for 20 percent off your entire stay. They ask you to call them back to be connected to a representative who will help you claim the offer.

Should you receive this sort of message, don’t respond. This is just a numbers game perpetuated by scammers. These texts go out to millions of people in a short span of time, knowing that at least some people will have upcoming plans at the hotel.

If you fall for it, you will soon be communicating with people who want nothing more than to steal your data. According to James Lee, COO of Identity Theft Resource Center, these types of scams are easy for criminals to get away with. You may be in a rush so your guard is down, or you’re already on vacation and are more relaxed than normal.

“When you’re out of your normal routine, you are less likely to spot signs that things are not quite right,” says Lee.

Robocalls impersonating travel companies

Another way scammers get you to give up your information is by making robocalls that impersonate airlines, hotels and travel services. They use auto dialer software to alert you about a flight delay or to provide updated information about your arrangements. Out of the millions of people they contact, at least some will have a trip planned on that airline.

If you press the number to speak with a representative, you will end up giving your travel plans to a stranger.

All too often, says Hamerstone, you’ll eventually be presented with an offer to upgrade to Business or First Class for a small fee. Because they don’t have your credit card on file, you’ll be asked to read it to them over the phone. Once the crook has that information, they can go shopping. You may not find out until you’ve returned from your trip, or when you’re out having a great time but can’t make a purchase with your card because it’s maxed out.

Unreal travel insurance

With all the flight delays and travel hiccups that can occur, you may want to spring for a travel insurance policy. Among other features, it can provide you with protection against lost or stolen luggage, pay for a hotel room and offer a stipend for food, should you need it.

Beware, though; if you search for travel insurance online, you may find a familiar insurance company that is nothing more than a duplicate site. It will enable you to make the purchase, but you’ll never get the protection because the policy doesn’t exist.

What’s genius about this scam is that most people do not end up using travel insurance policies. The $50 or so you spend may give you peace of mind even if you don’t use it, so you’ll never know it was fake. When you do need it and think you’re covered, though, you’ll be very upset.

The good news is that many credit cards have embedded travel insurance, so you don’t need to pay extra for a policy.

Act fast if you all prey to a travel scam

“If any of these things happen to you, you’re the victim of a crime,” says Hamerstone. “Don’t be embarrassed. Scammers are really good at what they do. It’s their full time job, and they know what words to use. They exploit a sense of urgency, and they’re so convincing.”

In addition to letting the real company know that scammers are impersonating them (Hamerstone suggests contacting a company through social media for the fastest response), report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission.

If the person made unauthorized transactions with your credit card, call your credit card company immediately, and report the fraud.

Also contact one of the three major credit bureaus — TransUnion, Experian or Equifax — and add a fraud alert to your file (the bureau you contact will notify the others). The alert will act as a red flag to potential lenders and creditors. You can also freeze your credit so that no one can request a credit limit increase or open a new credit product in your name without your file being thawed by you.

The bottom line

It’s always a good idea to use a travel credit card for your vacation, both for the rewards and the consumer protection.

If you’re going to make your vacation plans on your own, Nicole Cueto, a travel expert with Fora Travel, urges consumers to slow down and confirm before interacting. “Look for odd spellings in emails and websites,” says Cueto. “Check to see the person is who they say they are by cross referencing through a simple Google search. Never share your login, and don’t save your credit card info on sites.”

Do not respond to messages that come to you from a company, whether they are phone calls, texts or emails. Type the actual website address for the company you are doing business with and either use the chat function or call directly.

And if you’re really uneasy, turn to a professional, suggests Cueto. A certified travel advisor will organize your vacation and safely make travel arrangements for you.