January 27, 2021

Tips to Avoid 6 Common Travel Scams

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Travel season is heating up along with the weather, which means scammers are bringing their A-game in hopes of separating you from your money. Whether you’re taking the kids to Disneyland, spending a romantic week in Aruba, or heading to Duluth for your cousin’s wedding, you need to know what to look for to protect yourself.

The fact is, travel scams vary widely, from pickpockets to legal resort charges—don’t assume that legitimate businesses can’t legally scam you, because many can and will. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) reports that Americans are tricked out of $10 billion per year in travel-related scams. From shady cabbies to too-good-to-be-true vacation packages, here’s what to be aware of:

Time Share Scams

If you live in the U.S. you’ve probably gotten calls for a free or incredibly cheap vacation to Mexico or some similar warm destination with the caveat that you sit through a time-share presentation. Seems reasonable, and who wouldn’t want a vacation home for which they don’t have to pay full price or maintain? The problem arises when you succumb to the hard sell, and then are never able to actually use the timeshare because it’s oversold. Many of the timeshare condos are illegal, or nearly so, and you could lose tens of thousands of dollars with no recourse but to complain to the BBB. If you are interested in a timeshare, do your research and go through a reputable company with good customer reviews.  Make sure you know what you’re doing and don’t get into anything you haven’t fully researched so that later you won’t find yourself asking, Why is it so hard to cancel a timeshare?

Surprise Fees

Surprise fees and charges are a problem in all corners of the travel industry, from hotels and resorts to airline tickets. Travel companies are legally allowed to quote ridiculously low prices and then tack on fees for things you expected to be included, such as use of the gym or pool, or the ability to check your bags. Even if you don’t use the gym or pool, resorts can require all guests to pay their “resort fee,” which can make your vacation a lot more expensive than you expected. Experts recommend using a travel agency that will give you an “all in” quote so you know exactly how much you’ll be paying before you go.

Rental Car Scams

When you rent a car, you are given the opportunity to look for and report damage before you drive it off the lot so that you aren’t charged for damage you didn’t cause. However, some shady companies count on your either not doing the inspection, or not noticing hidden damage such as under the car so that they can charge you for it later. Customers can also be charged a “loss of use” fee and most will suck it up and pay, but then the car—damage and all—is returned to the fleet to gouge the next person who comes along.


Cabbies, especially in foreign countries, are notorious for overcharging. They can do this by setting the meter for the night/weekend rate during a weekday, quoting an unreasonable price, or “dropping” your large bill, then switching it for a hidden, smaller one and accusing you of underpaying. You can protect yourself by calling a reputable cab company from your restaurant or hotel instead of hailing one on the street, and by knowing the going rate in advance.

In Las Vegas, a common taxi scam is for the driver to unload your bags in a hurry and then drive off without you realizing that one of them is still in the trunk. It pays to always be alert and on your toes when traveling, especially in Vegas.


A typical way travelers get scammed is by people pretending to be someone they’re not. For example, it’s becoming increasingly common for scammers to call hotel guests in the middle of the night claiming to be the front desk. They say there was a problem with your credit card and need the number again, counting on the fact that you’re too sleepy to be suspicious.

In other countries, scammers will pose as “tourist police,” and demand to check your wallet for counterfeit money. They’ll look official and may even flash a badge, but after they disappear you’ll realize your cash went with them. “Hotel inspectors” in Europe may ask to check your room—one distracts you while the other helps himself to valuables left on the dresser or desk. Don’t let them in, even if they look official.

Summer Vacation Shysters

Summer is a busy time for scammers and con artists, and they work in a couple of different ways. Fake travel companies will advertise too-good-to-be-true package deals to college students who want to go somewhere awesome for their summer break and don’t have the patience or experience to do their research. The students will buy the cheapest deal, and then the company will disappear—with their money.

Another common ploy is for scammers to check Facebook or other social media for young people who post about their vacations. They can get a remarkable amount of information about people that way, and then they will contact the grandparents by email, claiming to be the traveling grandchild in need of wired money. If you ever get a message from a loved one who is traveling and needs money, always call and speak to them directly before sending it.

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