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Online hotel booking scams cost travelers nearly $ 4 billion

Carefully review this getaway offer before you book. If a travel sale sounds too good to be true, chances are it is.

Online hotel reservation scams are on the rise, warns the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

Last year, the industry group reports, consumers made 55 million reservations through websites they thought belonged to a hotel – but later realized that it was in fact a rogue third-party operator. This is more than triple the number of fraudulent bookings reported in 2015.

Damage to consumers: nearly $ 4 billion in misleading reservations.

This “mirror site” deception, where deceptive web pages claim to be a business they are not, is among the most popular online travel scams, said Maryam Cope, vice president of government affairs at AHLA. Malicious sites can be difficult to spot as they often use the resort name in the link, set up fake phone numbers, buy ad words, and cover the webpage with real photos of the hotel and its logo.

But consumers should be on the lookout for more than sneaky sites, said Katherine Hutt, spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau.

“When it comes to travel scams and other high-end, expensive scams, the scammer is more likely to contact you,” she said.

Most of the time, the crooks contact via email, but sometimes they call, too, she said. In this case, the scammer claims to be calling from a well-known hotel company to let you know about a great deal that is about to expire. Usually, they’ll say something like “there’s only one piece left” or “there’s someone on the other line,” she said – anything to get you to buy on. -field.

This kind of emergency should be an instant wake-up call, warns Hutt.

“They want to put pressure on you because they don’t want you to have the time to do your research and ask around,” she said.

Avoid a scam

To avoid travel scams, the research step of the booking process is necessary, especially if you are going through a third-party source, Hutt said. Here’s how to do your due diligence:

  • Buy at the source. When possible, book directly with the hotel instead of a third-party source. It’s the surest way to be sure your reservation is legitimate, said Katherine Lugar, President and CEO of AHLA. If you’re worried about the possibility of a mirror site, Cope recommends calling the company and asking specific questions such as “What’s nearby?” What amenities does the hotel offer? If they are unable to respond quickly, you may not be dealing with who you think you are.
  • Use reliable and secure third-party sources. There are many reputable third party booking sites and travel agencies “Who have relationships with hotels where you can safely book travel,” Hutt said. BBB.org allows consumers to verify that the site or agency has a good reputation with previous customers. Additionally, confirm that the website is secure by looking for a padlock symbol in the web address and a URL starting with “https”.
  • Plan ahead. The best hotel deals are often available well in advance. Planning ahead will give you time to research different sites, compare options and amenities, and get a good rate.
  • Pay with a credit card. Always pay with a credit card, which offers more protection than debit cards, wire transfers, cash and other payment methods. The worst thing you can do is pay with a debit card, Hutt said. “You can give access to all the money in your bank account,” she said.

What to do if you are a victim

If you’ve been the victim of a travel scam, Hutt and Cope agree that the best first step is to alert your credit card company. Sometimes they are able to cancel the charges. Don’t be hopeful, however: Victims of travel and vacation scams lose an average of $ 847, said Beverly Baskin, president and CEO of the Council of BBB.

The next step is to file a complaint with the state attorney general – both in the state you’re traveling to and the state you’re from – Cope said. If you are traveling abroad, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

Victims may also consider filing a police report if a substantial amount of money has been lost, Hutt said.

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