5 Cruise Scams Every Traveler Needs to Know

Close up of the cruise ship

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For many travelers around the world, cruising remains one of the most fun and popular vacations for everyone. According to statistics from the Cruise Line Industry Association, over 22 million people around the world took a cruise in 2014. As opposed to an all-inclusive resort vacation, travelers are often attracted to cruises because of the multiple destinations they highlight, along with the multitude of activities offered aboard each ship.

While cruising has a unique allure, even these grand vacations are not impervious to scams. From offers of free trips to targeted problems in ports-of-call, travelers who sail the seas can also be targeted by muggers and scam artists. As a result, travelers can find themselves paying more than they anticipated for their vacation, or even having their personal information stolen by organized thieves.

Before packing for the trip of a lifetime, travelers need to prepare for the scams they may see on and off their cruise ship. These are some of the most common scams travelers may see prior to and after embarking. 

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“The Winner” Free Cruise Scam

Fun times on the cruise ship
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Many would-be cruisers have probably received some sort offer for a free cruise. The announcement, typically printed in bright colors and "urgent" stamped all over, is often filled with language that encourages the recipient to book their “free” Caribbean Cruise today. 

Many of these situations often turn out to be scams in the end. In the most documented case, travelers who receive an offer from the cruise company are often subjected to high-pressure sales from those offering the cruise, including upgrades beyond the “port fees” they pay for their cruise.

Alas, everything in life comes with a price – especially vacations. Travelers who are approached with a cruise they “won” should research their offer very carefully before putting any money down. If the offer seems out of place, do not agree to anything or offer a credit card number. Instead, talk to a travel agent, who can help find real deals through the biggest cruise lines serving the world. 

02 of 05

The Sales Pitch Free Cruise Scam

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In another variation of the free cruise scam, travelers may also be offered a free vacation for just "a moment of their time." Unfortunately, a moment of their time may instead turn into several hours, and a high pressure sales pitch.

Often seen as a Las Vegas scam, this free cruise deal operates by offering travelers an “incentive” for something they may or may not have done. The scam artist informs the would-be traveler they have been selected to take a free cruise in exchange for their time. Their “time” may include taking a tour of a new hotel or resort, or attending an “informative presentation” about a new investment opportunity. Up front, the salespeople say the tours are meant to be entertaining and informative, and will not take more than a short amount of time.

In many situations, the “presentations” are not informative at all, and can run hours at a time. Moreover, the “presentations” often involve high-pressure sales tactics, where travelers may feel nothing short of coerced to buy into the program. Before accepting a free cruise – or any other type of trip – in exchange for attending "a presentation," be sure to read the fine print. Those who don’t wish to be added to a long-standing list for high-pressure sales scams may want to reconsider taking this option. 

03 of 05

The “Claim Now” Free Cruise Scam

Fraud scams via phone
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Some of the most prevalent cruise scams do not take place by mail or in person, but over the phone instead. In one of the more questionable tactics, scam artists often target would-be travelers at home with a “once in a lifetime” offer.

These scams sometimes begin with a phone call and a pre-recorded message, informing the traveler they have been selected for an all-expenses-paid cruise. In other situations, a live person may inform the recipient of their good luck, but request an immediate payment for taxes and docking fees.

While some of these situations are a variations of other free cruise scams, other situations do not even involve a ship at the end of the day. Instead, these elaborate scams look to part travelers from their credit card numbers, in order to rack up fraudulent charges against the traveler.

Never give a credit card number to a company offering a free cruise over the phone without asking all of the right questions. Be sure to ask the caller about their company, their website, all of their upfront fees, and the callback number. If they refuse any of this information, or say they can only offer a deal on that call, hang up.

04 of 05

The Port-of-Call Strong Arm Scam

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Travelers who have booked their cruise through a travel agent or directly from their preferred cruise lines are not excused from falling victim to potential scams. Scams can happen at any time away from the ship, especially during visits to ports-of-call along the way.

In an anecdote shared by Conde Nast Traveler editor Wendy Perrin, a taxi ride around the island of Grenada turned into much more than a long-haul scam. After parting with her traveling companions, Perrin reports she was delivered to a place far away from her departure terminal. From there, the driver coerced her for additional money, with the assistance of two burly accomplices. When she paid up additional money, the driver delivered her to the departure terminal.

Before agreeing to go with a driver or booking a driving tour, be sure to do homework on the provider. Instead of looking only online, ask the local tourism office or hotel concierge for who they recommend. A good concierge can call a trusted driver without problems. Should a traveler have an issue with a driver, be sure to file a complaint with the local authorities. 

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05 of 05

The Cruise Line Job Placement Service Scam

Job placement scam
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Finally, not all cruise scams involve those who are looking for a cruise. Job seekers with a high sense of adventure and the desire to sail the seven seas often look to work and live aboard cruise ships. Unfortunately, even working aboard a cruise ship is not impervious to scams.

One of the most common job scams involve a recruiter reaching out to a prospect who may have posted their resume online to job boards. According to Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, these scams will begin with the “recruiter” e-mailing the target, claiming to represent a major brand. The recruiter guarantees the person a job with a cruise ship, in exchange for paying a fee up front. Fees can be limited to “international taxes and work visas,” all the way to a “professional finding fee.” When the target pays the scammer – and their purported job – simply disappear.

As with any case, job searchers should do their research before submitting their personal information for a job. Those who want to work on a cruise ship should start their search on the cruise line website, and look into the credentials of any “recruiter” before exchanging information. If a recruiter asks for personal information or a “recruiting fee” up front, hit the delete button.  

While traveling the world on the sea can be a lot of fun, it can also come with a number of scams. By being aware of the potential pitfalls ahead of time, every traveler can see the world by sea without fear of falling victim to a cruise scam.

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