With most COVID-19 restrictions lifted, people are looking forward to traveling again.
But they should also be looking out for scams.
The Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker has been collecting reports of con artists creating fake airline ticket booking sites or customer service numbers. If you are buying airfare, use caution and double check the URL or phone number before providing your credit card information.
Here, according to the bureau, is how the scam works: While doing an online search for cheap flights, you come across what seems like a great deal with a major airline. You book the flight – either through the website or by calling a customer support number – and receive a confirmation message. However, when you look more closely at the email, you notice that you never actually received your ticket.
In another version of this scam, you book a flight on a travel website offering deals on airfare. You pay with your credit card like normal. But shortly after making the payment, you receive a call from the company saying that there's been a sudden price increase or an extra charge to finalize your booking. The bureau points out that this is something a legitimate company would never do.
In either case, you call the airline to follow up about your flight. After talking to an agent, you find that they have no record of your booking. It turns out you accidentally purchased tickets through a scam website or a phony customer service number.
Fortunately, legislation is in the works to prevent these kinds of scams. U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Steven Daines, R-Montana, introduced the bipartisan “Protecting Consumers from Travel Fraud Act” to combat fraud and scams in the travel and tourism industry. This legislation would direct the Federal Trade Commission to report to Congress on scams targeting travelers during the coronavirus pandemic. It would also require the commission to update its website with information to help consumers identify and avoid emerging travel scams and provide policy recommendations for preventing and deterring online travel booking scams.
“As the pandemic comes to an end and people make plans to travel safely once again, we need to ensure consumers are protected from unfair and deceptive practices designed to target travelers,” said Klobuchar. “This bipartisan legislation will help protect consumers from travel scams and prevent fraudulent behavior in the travel and tourism industry moving forward.”
In the meantime, the BBB offers these tips on how to avoid travel scams:
Do your research. If you come across a company you haven’t dealt with before, research it before making any purchases. Look on BBB.org for reviews and feedback from previous customers.
Double check the URL before you enter personal and payment information.It can be easy to click on a sponsored ad or imposter website without noticing. Before you enter any sensitive information, double check that you are on the right website and that the link is secure. (Secure links start with “https://” and include a lock icon on the purchase page. Learn more at BBB.org/BBBSecure.)
Be wary of third-party websites. Some websites appear to offer a legitimate service but are only fronts for a scam. Be suspicious of websites with no working customer service number and no physical address. Typos and grammatical errors can be indications of a scammer’s handiwork, too.
Make online purchases with your credit card. Fraudulent charges made on a credit card can usually be disputed, whereas that might not be the case with other payment methods. Unfortunately, there is no way to get back the personal information you may have shared.
To learn more about travel scams, go to BBB.org/TravelScam. If you’ve been a victim of an airline ticket or other travel scam, report your experience at BBB.org/ScamTracker. By doing so you can help others to avoid falling prey to scammers.