Scam Free Summer

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. 

4 Vacation Scams To Watch For This Summer And How To Avoid Them

young parents with two kids taking a selfie picture while on vacationWith summer in full swing, you might be planning and packing up for the vacation of a lifetime. Before you load the car and head out, though, read through our list of four common vacation scams and learn how to avoid them. You don’t want to take a permanent vacation from your hard-earned money!

1. The bogus prize vacation
In this scam, you’ll receive notification via snail mail, phone call or email, that you’re the lucky winner of an absolutely free vacation stay. You’ll eagerly start planning your trip, only to find that you’re constantly asked to pay various “prize fees,” “taxes,” or “reservation deposits” as the departure date draws near. Your “free” vacation isn’t really free at all!

You might get suspicious and pull out. Or, you might be too deeply ensnared in the trap and only realize that, when you arrive at your destination, you’ve been conned. The vacation destination will either not exist at all, or be so substandard that you’ll need a vacation from your vacation when you get back home.

2. The dream-priced rental
You’re scrolling through Airbnb, searching for that perfect vacation rental house when you suddenly strike gold. There it is! The rental you’ve been looking for — and at a dream price!

You’ll contact the renter and begin making make arrangements for your trip. The renter will offer you an even steeper discount if you pay them through a third-party processing site instead of through the Airbnb website. Their likely preference is wire transfer. You’ll then be asked to pay a deposit or even the full price of the rental before you arrive. While it’s completely expected to pay up front through Airbnb or another rental service, you will not have the same protection if you’re not using the site.

The problem starts when you arrive at your vacation spot — or try to do so, that is. The address you’ve been given does not actually exist and the gorgeous pictures you’ve been looking through belong to another renter. Sadly, you’re now out your money and have nowhere to stay during your vacation.

3. Phony “experiences”
Aside from vacation rentals, sites like Airbnb also allow you to book “experiences,” or days out on the town with locals.

Unfortunately, this platform has become a breeding ground for scammers who offer phony tours to eager vacationers. You might find yourself booking a tour or an experience, and even paying for it, only to find out you’ve been scammed.

4. Travel-club membership with a catch
In these scams, unscrupulous travel companies work hard to persuade you to join their travel club with the promise of significant benefits and kickbacks, including dream vacation stays, discounted cruises or resort tickets and completely free getaways. Unfortunately, once you’ve joined the club, you’ll be charged high dues for perks that are so hard to access, they’re practically worthless. The discounted tickets will only be eligible for certain vacation dates that probably will not align with your own plans, and the “free” trip you were promised also comes with severe restrictions.

How to spot a vacation scam
Now that you know the many ways you can be conned while planning for or being on vacation, let’s take a moment to review the red flags that will clue you in to these scams.

Upfront fees
Whether it’s a vacation rental, a tourist experience or a sweepstakes prize, you should not have to pay more than a small deposit before your arrival. If you’re asked to pay steep upfront fees or even the full amount before your vacation, run the other way and don’t look back.

Specific payment methods
Similarly, if you’re asked to pay via wire transfer only, you can be sure you’re looking at a scam. According to the FTC, a demand for payment by wire transfer is the surest sign of a scam.

Skimpy details and absent reviews
When booking any kind of vacation, do your research. If your contact refuses to provide you with anything more than the most basic of details and you can’t find much info online, you’re likely looking at a bogus vacation.

Prices that are too good to be true
Trust your instincts. If a vacation rental, experience or package is priced ridiculously low, do some digging. Google the travel company or the renter’s name with the words “scam” or “bogus” to see what results come up.

Pressure tactics
If you’re urged to sign on a vacation package quickly or risk losing out on the deal, opt-out. Scams succeed with speed.

Scammers never go on vacation. Keep your guard up when planning your getaway and stay safe!

Your Turn:
Have you been targeted by a vacation scam? Share your experience with us in the comments.

SOURCES:

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2019/05/make-it-scam-free-vacation

https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2019/vacation.html?CMP=KNC-DSO-Adobe-Bing-FRD-VacationRentalScams-General&s_kwcid=AL!4520!10!73873646340258!73873595875939&ef_id=XQkCmwAAAKChlBOg:20190618160907:s

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0073-timeshares-and-vacation-plans