If you receive a phone call or postcard offering you a free vacation, beware. There is a good chance your dream vacation may turn into a real nightmare. In one common type of travel scam, the consumer is sent a postcard telling him he has won a free vacation. In another, the “vacation” is one of several prizes in a sweepstakes. In most cases, the consumer is required to call a number for more details or to “claim” the prize.
In yet another type of travel scam, the consumer is told he will receive a package in the mail detailing the vacation offer. The operator then asks for his credit card number, telling him there will be a small service charge made to his account if he accepts the vacation. Often, the consumer is assured he will have a review period to decide if he wants the package before his account is billed for the service charge. This promise usually proves to be false. These companies are slow in sending the vacation package materials and when they do arrive, the review period already has expired. The firm quickly bills the consumer’s credit card for hundreds of dollars for its “service fee.”
A common form of travel scam involves a direct mail communication or e-mail which offers a “dream vacation” for an incredibly low price. After the consumer agrees and discloses his credit card number, he learns the catch: To qualify for the vacation he has to buy a second round-trip fare at “regular price” — only the regular price may cost him two or three times more than it would if he bought his ticket in advance or through an airline or reputable travel agency. A salesperson may also conveniently fail to mention that a “free” vacation does not include such things as meals, taxes, deposits or surcharges.
It pays to investigate a travel package before you buy. But it can be difficult to tell a legitimate sales pitch from a fraudulent one. Consider these travelers’ advisories:
- Do not give your credit card number to any person or business unless you expect to be charged for a product or service.
- Beware of ads with few details that promise a lot for little money.
- Be cautious of firms that ask you to pay before confirming reservations. Most reputable travel agents will confirm before payment.
- Deal with an established firm. If a firm is unfamiliar to you, check with relatives, friends or the Better Business Bureau.
- If you are not familiar with the firm, request written information regarding total costs of the vacation and all items included in the cost. Any transportation, lodging, meals or other items not specifically mentioned may not be included.
- Ask about your right to cancel. In the event of illness or change of plans, you could end up paying for a trip you never take. Also inquire about the availability of cancellation insurance.
- Be wary of vacation offers that are “good today only.”
- Remember, the better a vacation package sounds the more thoroughly you need to verify the package’s details.
- Do not be pressured into buying. A good offer today usually will be a good offer tomorrow. Legitimate businesses do not expect you to make snap decisions.
- Ask detailed questions. Find out exactly what the price covers and what it does not. Ask about additional charges. Get the names of the hotel, airports, airlines and restaurants included in your package. Consider contacting these businesses directly to verify arrangements. Ask about cancellation policies and refunds. If the salesperson cannot give you detailed answers, hang up.
- Get all information in writing before you agree to buy. Once you receive the written information, make sure it reflects what you were told over the phone and the terms you agreed to.
- Do not buy part of the package — the air fare or hotel stay — separately from the rest. If the deal is not what you expected, it may be difficult to get your money back for the part of the package you purchased.
- Do not give your credit card number or bank information over the phone unless you know the company.
- Do not send money by messenger or overnight mail. If you pay with cash or a check, rather than a credit card, you lose your right to dispute fraudulent charges under the Fair Credit Billing Act. If you charged your trip to a credit card, you may dispute the charges by writing to your credit card issuer at the address provided for billing disputes. If possible, do this as soon as you receive your statement. In any case, the law gives you up to 60 days after the bill’s statement date to dispute the charge.
- Check out the company before you buy.
As the victim of a travel scam or cruise ship fraud, you have the right to claim damages. A knowledgeable lawyer can explain your rights and prospects for obtaining compensation.
If you are a victim of a travel scam, contact Consumer Fraud Online to discuss your options with an attorney. Located in White Plains, NY, our firm represents victims of vacation fraud from around the country.