Don’t get sucked into a travel scam

A story from the New York Times this week reminded me that sometimes even the most experienced travelers looking for deals are susceptible to scams.

Their “Frugal Traveler” actually got suckered into an online scam for a rental apartment in London. Here’s more from the story.

I filled out the online form and an agent wrote me back almost instantly. Yes, the apartment was available. Just prepay and it’s yours — five nights plus a security deposit of £200. Sorry, no credit cards. No PayPal, either. I should wire money, including a security deposit, to the owner’s British bank account.

At this point, I suppose I should have known I was being scammed. A bank transfer? Who pays by bank transfer?

Method of payment should always raise your “Spidey” sense if they’re a large company that doesn’t take credit cards. Farmer’s market, maybe. Apartment rental business, no.

A friend of my roommates came to stay with us for a weekend while she apartment-hunted in Atlanta. We thought she was going to stay with us for a month or so, but announced after two days that she had found a great apartment in Midtown.

Turned out to be a scam — she was naive and got sucked into giving them a downpayment in the form of a Walmart gift card. And she was out $400.

Have you ever been scammed? (Don’t worry; even the travel writer was brave enough to share his embarrassing story with us. You can too.) What tips would you give to others about avoiding scams when looking for bargains?

– By Lauren Davidson, Atlanta Bargain Hunter

See a great deal I should know about? Email me at ldavidson@ajc.com. You can also follow me on Facebook or on Twitter @atlbargains.

4 comments Add your comment

Ted Striker

January 28th, 2011
9:20 am

Other potential red flags are companies offering “free” vacations/cruises for a time-share presentation. And discount travel clubs that are more than a token fee for a membership. If joining a club make certain it’s a well-known club with a track record verifiable OFF their proprietary website.

You nailed the number one red flag: An online vendor/party who asks for payment yet won’t take a credit card.

Speaking of credit cards, I’d ensure that any business you pay is a U.S. company with a U.S. bank, unless of course, you know otherwise. An unexpected “extra” fee once appeared on my card statement — charged by my own bank — because I’d made a transaction that involved a non-U.S. bank. It was a very nominal charge however it surprised me because I thought I was doing business with a domestic company rather than a foreign company.

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S. American Business Trip Scams

January 28th, 2011
10:26 am

Nearly 98% of the scams I encounter happen on trips to South American countries.

This past summer, I was a business guest of a hospital company in PUERTO VALLARTA, MEXICO. My accommodations during the stay were pre-paid (gratis) by my client as part of their long-standing discounted rate agreement with a beach-side condo. Upon departure, and trying to catch my plane, the condo-hotel claimed `no knowledge` of the pre-paid arrangement, and debited my credit card for more than 2 times the actual cost of the stay, [in addition to the pre-payment already received in full]. I would have been thoroughly scammed if the hotel had not learned that I was with a travel magazine covering Puerto Vallarta.

SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA requires training and licensing for workers in the tourist trade, but … the shyster syndrome is still extremely prevalent. I took a $4 taxi ride to a corporate business meeting. When I was ready to leave, the receptionist called her `contact` taxi service to pick us. The return trip cost more than $30 and the taxi driver explained the over charge by calling his service an `expedition company`. The hotel also tried to charge my business colleague a substantially higher amount than the rate at which we booked the rooms.

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