Approximately 96% of American workers say vacation time is important to them, so it’s not surprising that it’s something a lot of folks spend their spare time daydreaming about. But before you book a getaway of any kind, it’s important to do a lot of research first. In the digital age, vacation scams are becoming harder to spot — and it’s costing us a lot of money.
Seniors are often seen as a target for these vacation scams. Considering that more than 10,000 people reach the retirement age of 65 each day, it may seem to criminals that this generation is ripe for the picking. But while it’s true that older people may fall victim to them, it turns out millennials do way more often. According to a Federal Trade Commission report from last year, around 40% of fraud victims in their 20s reported losing money to scams, while only 18% of fraud victims ages 70 and above reported financial losses. While older people tend to lose out on higher amounts of money, it seems like scammers would do just as well to target young people to make a quick, dishonest buck.
But no matter the age of the victim, there’s a certain type of scam that ends up with the most significant financial losses per incident. Any scam dealing with travel and vacations comes with an average loss of $1,710 each time. Granted, travelers expect to pay more for a trip than they do for many other types of scam fodder. So it’s important to know how to sense vacation scams from a mile away.
First of all, anything involving a timeshare should get your spidey senses tingling. Even though the timeshare industry is worth $70 billion a year, these properties are generally considered to be a bad idea, financially speaking. Technically, purchasing a timeshare might not fall under the “scam” category, unless it’s being sold on a third-party site (in which case, run away even faster than you normally would have).
And if you already own a timeshare, don’t expect to be able to sell it for even close to what you paid. When one Canadian senior agreed to sell her Mexican timeshare to a supposed company representative who offered to pay her even more than her property was originally worth, she lost out big time. The “representative” informed the woman she’d have to pay taxes and fees prior to receiving the sale proceeds from the property. Unfortunately, she transferred this money to a Mexican bank account, which was then drained and immediately closed. Worse yet, her money was not able to be recovered. Experts suggest that you be skeptical of any unsolicited offers to buy your timeshare, never pay anything to the person reportedly buying the property, and to handle sales through a reputable company.
In fact, don’t believe anything someone contacting you via phone (or via email) tells you about vacations. While 52% of survey respondents around the world say they expect to vacation at the beach within the next 12 months, don’t be too eager to jump on an incredible, low-cost tropical getaway. In Kentucky, callers have tried to convince residents they can book weeklong Orlando vacations or three-day trips to the Bahamas for a ridiculously low price, including complimentary cruises, included meals, and bonus gifts. Like you might have guessed, these calls usually force victims to hand over payments upfront, as well as their financial and personal information, and there’s never any vacation in return. While these calls have been happening for many years, they’re starting to show up again. And thanks to new robocalling methods and what’s known as “spoofing,” you might think the caller is local and answer a call you should have let go to voicemail.
Regular vacation rentals come with their share of risks, too. Bait and switches are sadly quite common and properties are not always presented realistically in Photoshopped ads. That’s why it’s best not to book any rental site unseen. You should also never agree to pay for your entire vacation upfront. If you’re paying a deposit, conduct an extensive search on the owner and property — and never pay via check, wire transfer, or cash. Always use credit cards (or PayPal) to ensure the best protection. You may also want to contact local tourism offices to ensure the property does, in fact, exist and that the owner is considered to be in good standing.
And don’t assume you’re safe with Airbnb. While the service can be great, it is a “buyer beware” situation. Some people simply misrepresent the condition of their property, but there are bigger vacation scams to worry about with this brand.
One such scam involves communicating with a host about a property that seems like a steal. The owner will likely take these communications off the Airbnb platform, like through email messages. They might seem friendly and helpful at first, sending you a direct link to their listing and requesting you complete the booking through the platform to ensure you’re both protected. The problem is that the link goes to a site that merely mimics the Airbnb site. It’s actually a phishing scam and you’ll lose your money if you don’t recognize the differences between the two sites.
That’s not the only way Airbnb hosts can try to pull the wool over your eyes. Some offer discounts or other incentives by urging you to pay in advance not using the platform’s payment method. A host might insist that you’ll both save on fees and that they’ll pass on the savings to you, but the reality is that the payment likely won’t be traceable and will cause you to become a fraud victim in a matter of seconds. Don’t fall for a fake Airbnb email, either. In general, limit all communication and payment to Airbnb’s platforms, read reviews diligently, triple-check the URL, and don’t even consider super-cheap listings (regardless of how feasible a host’s story might sound).
Prior to forking over your credit card information and packing up your suitcase, make it your mission to become more aware of the most popular vacation scams out there. They aren’t relegated to the pages of Craigslist or eBay, either. Always remember to conduct more research than you think is necessary before traveling somewhere new — and if a deal seems too good to be true, remind yourself that it probably is.