7 Common Online Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them

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Many travelers believe their hazards only begin at the airport or their destination. With the potential for viral outbreaksunknown weather events, and pickpockets, you may have every reason to be aware of your surroundings in a new country. But new travelers may not realize their biggest hazards may come where they least expect it: internet scams. 

When it comes to travel scams, more and more people are being targeted on their personal computers and smartphones. From elaborate phishing scams that make travelers think their tickets have been canceled​ to social media advertisements spreading viral attacks, travelers are subject to more attempts to part them with their money. What does a traveler need to do in order to make sure they are actually getting the most of their adventures?

When it comes to beating the online travel scams, education is the best form of defense. Here are the seven most common online travel scams everyone should watch for, and how to beat them.

01 of 07

Free Airline Tickets

Handing over airline tickets
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One of the most prevalent scams you may face is the free airline ticket. The free airline ticket online scam makes travelers think they are getting a free ticket when they actually get nothing for sharing a viral post. 

How It Works: The free airline ticket online travel scam is most prevalent on social media channels, like Facebook or Twitter. Through this scam, travelers often see a message or post for the "official" page of an airline or travel provider. The message claims every traveler can claim two free airline tickets within the United States if they click on their enclosed link and then forward it on to friends.

Who It Targets: Because airline tickets can be costly, this scam targets anyone who is remotely interested in traveling. It relies on people following the instructions in order to self-perpetuate online, hopping from one person to another. 

There are never any free airline tickets. Instead, you will reach a third-party "phishing" website unaffiliated with the airline, which will access your information. With one click, scammers can steal your friend's list or get permission to post spam to your timeline. Elaborate scams even steal your username and password through a fake login page. 

How to Avoid: Lucky for online travelers, this scam is easy to pick out. First, check for misspellings in the page name, or titles like "Official Page." Only pages with blue checkmarks are validated by social networks. Second, an airline running an actual contest will never ask travelers for access to their page through a third-party application or to re-sign into their social media network. If this "contest" asks you to do either, don't click on it. Instead, report the scam to the social media channel, in order to kill it before it gets any further. 

02 of 07

Free Amusement Park Tickets

Much like the free ticket scam, free amusement park ticket online travel scams looks to glean travelers' personal information in exchange for a free amusement park ticket. However, that ticket rarely exists, leaving the would-be traveler compromised and empty-handed for their efforts. 

How It Works: There are two primary ways the free amusement park ticket scam works. First, much like the free airline ticket online travel scam, scam artists on social media channels may offer free amusement park tickets in exchange for traveler's liking, sharing, or logging in for more information.

Travelers looking for a good deal on amusement park tickets may join discount groups on social media. In this version of the "free" amusement park ticket scam, travelers may be offered unused days on a multi-day ticket, in exchange for a "courtesy fee" or "shipping and handling." However, passing over a multi-day pass is often against the terms and conditions, leaving purchasers at risk of losing their money (if the ticket is even valid in the first place).

Who It Targets: Unlike the free airline ticket scam, the free amusement park ticket online travel scam primarily targets families who are looking for getaways. Through social media, this scam is often perpetuated from family to family, hopeful they can get a free getaway for simply sharing a status or link. On discount groups and peer-to-peer sites, scams are often offered by "frugal parents" who want to help out another family. 

How to Avoid: As the old adage goes: if it's too good to be true, it probably is. Travelers should watch out for telltale misspellings or no official branding from their favorite amusement parks. If you want to pool towards a ticket, be sure you know your pool group in person and can trust them with your money. To lock in a deal without games, consider verified discount sites, like Groupon, or the U.S. Travel Association's Summer Discounts.

03 of 07

Fake Facebook Pages

Fake Facebook Page

While the first two scams are primarily perpetuated in different ways, the third scam lives for Facebook. All a scam artist needs is a logo and an incentive to capture your personal information. 

How It Works: A fake Facebook page online travel scam happens when the scammer creates an official-looking page with the name of the travel provider. These pages often carry logos and branding, along with limited additional content. Through these pages, they will create promotions or offers for travelers, with the intention of getting them to sign up or share the link to their networks. In many cases, these "offers" run from a discounted airline ticket to a completely free ticket for signing up on their third-party app. 

Who It Targets: This online travel scam targets anyone who wants a free flight—from families to experienced frequent flyers. Travelers will click on this scam because it is shared by a friend they are connected to, leading them to believe that its a trustworthy deal. 

But with no actual connection to the company, would-be travelers often end up giving away their information to third parties who only want to steal their identities. They will then use a target's friend list to find more potential targets. 

How to Avoid: Travelers who run into a fake Facebook page online travel scam should first and foremost report it to Facebook for removal. Afterward, those same travelers can look up other means to travel for a discount

04 of 07

Fake Flight Confirmation Emails

One of the newest travel scams to target travelers is disconnected from social media ​but instead targets your inbox. The "Confirm Your Flight" online travel scam reaches out to you through your inbox. 

How It Works: Days or weeks before a trip, travelers may receive an e-mail that appears to be from an airline. In the e-mail, the "airline" may say that the traveler has not yet confirmed their ticket and must go to a website to log in to confirm their travel.

When they click on the link, the traveler is guided to an official-looking site, where they may be asked to confirm their itinerary and passenger name record (PNR) or sign in through their frequent flyer account. Once a traveler does this, they have everything they need to go in and steal frequent flyer miles or hijack a ticket entirely.

Who It Targets: This scam often targets anyone with a frequent flyer account or may be preparing for a flight. While some attacks are more random than others, those who have posted travel plans on social media may be targeted.

Scam artists are targeting one of two pieces of information: either the travel PNR or the frequent flyer account information. Those who have the PNR potentially steal critical items of a traveler's identity, including full name, address, and passport number, which can cause complications. Those looking to steal frequent flyer accounts often steal points and miles from the unknowing traveler, which can be later redeemed in someone else's name. 

How to Avoid: Anyone who receives one of these e-mails should not click on the link or provide any information. Instead, they should first contact their airline to ensure tickets have not yet been compromised. 

Second, be sure to change your password on your frequent flyer account, to make sure your information is kept safe and sound. By changing passwords immediately, you can make sure your personal information or miles don't go anywhere. 

Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07

Craigslist and Airbnb Scams

With the continued prevalence of the sharing economy, more travelers are turning to room rentals through Airbnb, VRBO, and other similar platforms. For the majority of international travelers, these offer a great alternative to expensive hotels that are always overbooked. 

Even though it may seem like a cheaper and better way to live like a local, it can also open the door to even more danger. Before a dream house rental turns to a nightmare, scam artists want to take your money and leave you empty-handed. 

How It Works: After browsing legitimate room sharing websites like Airbnb, some travelers may look to free local classified ads to get a flavor for their future community or try to find a competing listing. Through places like craigslist or even social media, scam artists will advertise house rentals that are potentially cheaper than those on the home sharing sites. 

The scam works directly through messaging: either the target will send a message to the scam artist, or the scammer will contact the individual through a message board or other advertisement. In the message, the scammer will say they have a cheaper room available, but require a deposit up front. 

When the scam is successful, the targets agree to a price, then proceed to wire money via Western Union or send money over an app like Venmo. When it comes time to stay at the room, the targets discover the owner or the location never existed. 

Who It targets: This scam often works against deal seekers who are looking for a room close to a venue or event, but don't want to pay exorbitant amounts of money at a hotel. Instead of trying to wait in line to get a hotel, they will instead turn to alternate sites to try and find a better deal. 

This is where the scammers take advantage. By claiming they have a better room for less, they can pique the interest of the traveler and ultimately try to separate them from their money. When it works, the scammer keeps the money and the target gets nothing in return. 

How to Avoid: Any deal on craigslist or through a social media channel is always dangerous because you have fewer protections. It's never a good idea to do business with someone you don't know outside of a trusted channel. If you decide to get a roomshare, go through Airbnb, VRBO, or another website that provides protections in the event your room falls through. 

06 of 07

Bait-and-Switch Airline Deals

Shopping online using tablet
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In the early days of the internet, it was easy to set up a scam website to take money from unsuspecting travelers. Today, some of those scams are still alive and well, especially in the travel space. The "bait and switch" online travel scam can still quickly take your money by replacing one flight price for another. 

How It Works: The "bait and switch" online travel scam is most prevalent among offshore online travel agencies. This scam works partially by using search engine advertisements or pop-up advertisements, claiming they can save you hundreds of dollars on a trip. 

When travelers go to the website, they are presented with lower prices than at the major online travel agencies. What they often fail to disclose is the wide range of fees. This can include online convenience fees, to special ticketing fees imposed by the website. As a result, you don't end up seeing the much bigger price you actually pay until after you give up your credit card number. 

Who It Targets: Anyone who travels is always looking for the best available price. And with many different international airlines looking for your business, there are always multiple options. This scam looks to steal money from the most frugal of travelers who want the best price. Instead of getting the best price, these sites often overcharge on purpose with few avenues of recourse. 

How to Avoid: Even though a low price may seem tempting, it isn't always the best. Experienced travelers can use advanced tools like ITA Matrix to find the absolute lowest airfare and codes to fly at a discount. 

But for novice travelers looking for good prices should stay to the tried and true agencies. Online travel websites like Google Flights and Hipmunk can help you find the best prices for trips with little difficulty. 

07 of 07

Bogus Hotel Sites

Finally, booking scams can also target travelers who are looking for the best deal on their trips as well. According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, over 15 million travelers fall victim to false booking websites every year, costing travelers - and the industry - millions of dollars. 

How It Works: When it comes to online travel deals, many travelers will comparison shop between websites to get the best deal. When they find the best price for their accommodations, they have no problem booking it and trusting the site they are looking at. However, not all websites are equal. Some sites offer a great deal, just to have the deal not ​exist at the hotel. 

Who It Targets: This scam often targets those who are familiar with comparison shopping online, with the biggest target being those comparing via search engines. Scam artists will build convincing sites that are search-engine friendly, which look and respond like regular online travel agency websites.

However, in some situations, there is nothing powering these websites on the back end at all. Instead, a traveler is sending their credit card information and pre-paying for a hotel up front for no reservation, and nobody to go back to when their hotel reservations are not valid. 

How to Avoid: First and foremost, smart travelers are quick to ask questions about where they are booking online, including their reputation. Those who are concerned about the authenticity of their website should walk away, and use a trusted online travel agency. Even though it may cost more, the peace of mind that comes with a trusted online travel agency outweighs a great deal any day of the week. 

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