The winter holidays are upon us, and you’re planning socially distanced holiday celebrations, online shopping and hoping to see your loved ones in the safest way possible. In addition to the heightened health safety measures you’ll take if traveling this year, you have to look out for holiday scams, too. Make sure you take preventive measures to avoid falling victim to a fraud attempt or scam as you shop online or travel this season.
Here are a few essential travel tips to keep your finances safe from fraud.
If it’s Free, Don’t Pay
Fraudsters will often promise free or low-cost vacations, the majority of the time these vacation offers are completely fabricated or end up charging hidden fees. According to the Federal Trade Commission, if the prize company wants your credit card number, especially if they say it’s to verify your identity or your prize, don’t give it to them. If they say you “won a free vacation” but you have to pay some fees first, walk away. A legitimate company won’t ask you to pay for a prize.
One way to plan a financially safe trip is to purchase from a travel business you already are familiar with. Asking family and friends about travel companies they have used in the past will help ensure you are working with a trustworthy company. Once you have centered in on a hotel, resort or travel agency, look online to read reviews regarding their service, quality and prices.
If a company you’re researching advertises a “five-star” resort or a “luxury” cruise ship, look up the company’s website, multiple reviews and photos to verify the claims are true. Some companies will falsely brand themselves as “five-star” when in reality their accommodations are less than luxurious. If a company refuses to go into detail regarding their services, walk away.
Before you finalize your reservation, double-check the company’s refund and cancellation policies. Make sure the product you’re being sold is a licensed travel insurance business. The U.S. Travel Insurance Association maintains an updated list of licensed companies.
Verify your Reservation
After you’ve finished booking your flight, hotel and rental car, confirm each arrangement by speaking to someone over the phone. If you’re unable to reach a company representative, it may be best to cancel and seek out a more reliable business. Most cancellation policies have a 24-hour grace period after booking but be aware of how much time you have to do additional research before you are charged a fee.
Avoid Cash Payments
When making down payments for travel accommodations, consider avoiding cash or check payments. Paying with a credit card gives you added protection against potential fraudulent scams. If you are tricked into buying a fake vacation, you can likely dispute the charges with your credit card company. While card dispute requests are not guaranteed to be approved, it is worth contacting your credit card company for a potential refund, especially if you lost a significant amount to a scammer.