by N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper
Learn how you can avoid scams that sometimes plague vacationers. Here’s a list of five common travel scams:
The (Not So) Free Vacation
If you receive a cold call, flyer or email offering a free vacation, there’s likely a catch. For example, we took action against East Coast Travel/A-2-Z Vacations for using the promise of a free cruise or two roundtrip airline tickets to lure North Carolina consumers to travel club presentations. Consumers who attended got a high-pressure sales pitch for a travel club and had to pay a $100 deposit just to make a reservation for their “free” trip.
Before you make travel reservations online, do your homework. Some scammers offer deals for homes, reservations and hotel stays that don’t live up to your expectations. For example, cruise ship accommodations may be marketed as luxury when the rooms are really below average. To protect yourself, ensure that you have accurate information about the type of accommodations you’ve booked as well as contact information.
When booking travel online, the rate you see may not be the rate you’ll actually pay. Look carefully at every charge, ask questions if you don’t understand a charge and don’t pay until you know the total price. If you booked using a credit card and realized you were charged an unexpected fee, you may be able to dispute it with your credit card company.
Own a timeshare? When you check in for your stay, you may get pressure to attend a 90-minute presentation. It will likely last longer than promised and end with a pitch to change or upgrade to your timeshare, such as switching to a point system. Signing up could mean giving up your title to your timeshare with no guarantees that you can continue to use it as you have in the past. It could also result in an expensive charge to your credit card and new rules on booking future vacations. If you do sign a new contract, be sure you understand exactly how to cancel it.
Looking to book a vacation rental at the beach or in the mountains this summer? Beware of listings on websites such as Craigslist for rental houses that may already be booked, or may not even exist. To avoid this scam, stick with known rental agencies, pay deposits by credit card if possible, and never agree to pay for a rental home by wire service or reloadable debit card.
Tips and Tools for Smarter Vacations
Search more than one travel website to find the most competitive prices. Read all contracts carefully before signing. Make sure oral promises are put in writing, and keep a copy in case you have a problem later. If any travel site or other third party offers you a coupon for discounted or free services, verify with the company that it will actually honor it. Use a credit card to pay whenever possible to improve your chances of getting a refund if the company doesn’t deliver what it promised.
If you have a smartphone, travel apps can be a great tool for keeping track of your travel plans. Check reviews and ratings from other users. A number of travel apps are available for free.
For more consumer tips, visit www.ncdoj.gov or call the Consumer Protection Division at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.