Hello, summer! It’s the season of flip-flops and ice pops, of sun-drenched afternoons and lazy days at the beach. And, unfortunately, summertime is also prime time for scammers. People are more relaxed, schedules are looser and vacationers are traveling in unfamiliar locations. All of this can lead people to let their guard down during the summer, and the scammers know it.
Don’t get scammed this summer! Follow these tips to stay safe.
1. Never pay for a “prize” vacation
So you won an all-expense-paid trip to Aruba? Or a vacay in a remote French chalet? Sounds like a dream come true, but if you follow through, you’ll be caught up in a nightmare. If you’re asked to pay even a small fee to claim a free vacation prize, you’re looking at a scam. A legitimate company will never ask winners to pay a fee for a prize.
2. Use a credit card when traveling
A credit card will offer you the most protection in case something goes wrong. You’ll be able to dispute unauthorized charges, and in most cases, reclaim your lost funds.
3. Ignore celebrity messages
Celebrities might have a direct line with the public through their social media platforms, but don’t believe a private message appearing to be from your favorite movie star, singer or athlete. A direct message from a celeb asking for money for a charity, or claiming you’ve won a prize, but need to pay a processing fee, is a scam.
4. Check for skimmers at the pump
If you’ll be spending a lot of time on the road this summer, and pumping gas in unfamiliar places, it’s a good idea to check the card reader for skimmers before going ahead with your transaction. A card skimmer will read your credit or debit card information, enabling a scammer to empty your accounts. Here’s how to check for a skimmer on a card reader:
- Try to wiggle the card reader; this should dislodge a skimmer if there is one.
- Check the keypad to see if it looks newer than the rest of the card reader.
- Touch the surface of the keypad to see if it’s raised.
5. Research vacation rentals carefully before booking
With so many vacationers now booking stays at private homes instead of hotels, scamming travelers is easy. All it takes is a few fake photos, a bogus address, and you’ve got yourself a fake vacation rental. In other vacation rental scams, scammers will falsely advertise a rental as a beachfront property when it’s not, claim that it’s larger or more up-to-date than it is or promise amenities that are missing when you arrive.
Don’t get scammed! Before booking a vacation rental, read the reviews left by previous guests. If there aren’t any, or they don’t sound authentic, you’re likely looking at a scam. You can also look up the address of the rental to see if it in fact exists and if the location matches the description in the listing. As another precaution, you can ask the owner for more details about the property just to see their reaction; if they sound vague or uneasy, it’s likely a scam. Finally, as mentioned above, use a credit card to pay for the stay so you can dispute the charges if it ends up being a scam.
6. Vet potential contractors well
Contractors who go from door-to-door looking for work are a fairly common summertime sight. Unfortunately, though, some of these “contractors” are actually scammers who are only looking to con innocent homeowners out of their money. They’ll deliver shoddy work at an inflated price, go AWOL once a down payment on the job’s been made or do more harm than good with their “home improvement” work.
It’s best to only hire contractors whom you’ve personally reached out to instead of waiting for one to come knocking on your door. Also, before hiring, thoroughly research a potential contractor, asking for contact info of previous clients, checking out their online presence and looking up the business on the BBB website. Finally, it’s best not to agree to pay more than a third of the total cost of a job before the work commences. Even then, only pay when you see the materials arrive.
Don’t let summertime turn into scam-time. Stay alert, follow the tips outlined above, and stay safe!
Your Turn: What are your tips for a scam-free summer? Share them with us in the comments.