Meta Description: From fake Airbnb listings to fraudulent customers, the travel industry is vulnerable to numerous travel scams. In fact, five in particular are gaining ground.
The COVID-19 pandemic has paved the way for numerous opportunities for fraudsters. By viewing the current crisis as a source of vulnerability, criminals have been considerably active in manipulating consumers to lose their money.
Take this for an example - the CTSI (Chartered Trading Standards Institute) recently discovered a fraudulent scheme where criminals were sending out text messages pretending to be from the NHS (UK’s National Health Service). The text message reportedly misguided the recipients about the COVID-19 and informed them that they were eligible for the vaccine.
Coming to the travel industry, numerous accounts of bogus websites have been reported since the onset of the pandemic. A common travel fraud was the formation of a fake travel agency, whereby criminals formed websites with fake links, images, and reviews. Once the travel enthusiasts would open the links on the website to scroll through packages, they were required to provide information such as their full name, bank details, etc. supposedly for identity verification. Ultimately, it was all just a tactic for stealing confidential data.
With that being said, whether you’re looking forward to flying in Cappadocia’s hot air balloons or visiting Dubai for a weekend retreat, you might want to be aware of some common travel scams and ways to avoid them.
Fake Travel Agency
This type of travel scam has been gaining prominence for quite some time. In a travel agency fraud, criminals create fake travel companies using legitimate pictures from the internet. Next, they create a fake social media presence, using original pictures of the destination, fraudulent reviews, and forged certifications. Once accommodations have been booked, sensitive customer data has been stored for later use, and the payments have been received, they then shut down the bogus company and its website.
Another example of a travel agency scam is when fraudsters mimic an existing website to trick travelers into thinking they are the actual reputable company. By using the legitimate agency’s logo and offering the same packages, victims are inclined towards filling out online forms with their personal details. Here are some questions to consider when booking through an online agency:
- Are the contact details provided?
- Does the provided address actually exist?
- Are there any reviews and testimonials on the websites from real accounts?
- Is there a strong social media presence?
- Are verifiable travel licenses available to be viewed?
- Are original pictures provided within the “about us” section?
- Do the links on the pages work or do they have suspicious URLs?
Because of the emerging popularity of the shared economy, travelers are shifting from booking hotel rooms to booking room rentals through platforms like Airbnb. Majority of travelers opt for this option because of its lower costs and higher level of freedom. While it is undoubtedly a cheaper option, it comes with another kind of cost - fraudulent accommodation listings.
After listing fake rooms on accommodation platforms, scam artists require travelers to pay for the package up-front. After the payment has been made online via Western Union or other payment options, the scam has been successfully completed. Once travelers visit the location, they find out the owner never existed and the cash has been stolen.
The Taxi Overcharge
This scam is very common, and is found in any country you decide to visit. What happens is, the driver misguides new visitors about the meter being broken, or charges a higher rate than normal. To avoid this, you need to be aware of the usual taxi rates prior to visiting a city. Another thing you can do is to contact your accommodation and inquire about reputable taxi companies and their rates to have a frame of reference.
Airline Ticket Fraud
Another prevalent travel scam you might have come across on Facebook or Instagram without realizing is that of free or discounted airline tickets. In this scam, travelers are tricked into thinking that if they share a viral post or click on a link before the timer ends, they can avail airline tickets at a lower cost. In reality, this is just a method of stealing profile details, pictures, username, passwords, or possibly data from associated websites.
As common as it is, it is also easy to spot. First, it should be noted that valid websites have a “blue tick” associated with them on social media sites. Secondly, an airline never advertises its packages through a random third-party website. Instead of clicking on the link, a better idea would be to report it instead.
Stolen Debit/Credit Card Fraud
Travelers are not the only ones suffering from travel scams. In fact, travel agencies too are at the receiving end of frauds. At times, customers use stolen credit card information to book accommodations, airline tickets, activity packages, etc. This way, the card-holder’s account is charged for the package while the fraudster conveniently makes the most of it. Additionally, stolen credit cards are also used to make false chargeback claims, forcing the travel company to pay “back” an amount that was never actually made.
One thing that reputable travel companies do to prevent this is the utilization of identity verification solutions. These solutions are backed by artificial intelligence models and have the ability to verify the true identity of customers. This is done by asking the customers to provide their identity details, such as their full name, date of birth, etc., along with the submission of an official ID document such as an ID card or passport. With the help of robust identity verification solutions, companies are able to weed out fraudsters before they may cause any damage.