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Viral flight cancellation scams and how to avoid them
© Paul Funk |
Security & privacy

As more flights are canceled, scams are spiking – How to protect yourself

The combination of the omicron COVID-19 variant and severe weather conditions has led to many flights being canceled. Tap or click here for details on fraudulent COVID tests being offered by robocallers.

By Tuesday afternoon, airlines canceled 1,400 more flights around the country. This has left many travelers stranded and frustrated, as more than 20,000 flights have been canceled since Christmas Eve.

Passengers will naturally be eager to get their money back or book a new flight. But thieves are out in full force, looking to trap them in the latest viral scams.

Here’s the backstory

Several major airlines around the country have delayed or canceled tons of flights from reaching their destinations over the past couple of weeks. A winter storm has been covering the mid-Atlantic with a foot of snow after blanketing the Mid-West previously.

The uptick in daily new COVID cases in the U.S. hasn’t helped the situation either. It’s led to airlines being too short-staffed to keep all flights on schedule.

As always, where there is a crisis, there are scammers using world events and tragedies to trick people. Tapping into the swath of flight cancellations, criminals are now using the situation to launch rescheduled flight scams.

These types of scams aren’t new, as TrueCaller explained that almost 60 million Americans had lost money to phone scams over the last year. According to a blog post, the average amount of money lost to a phone scam was $502, and a total of $29.8 billion has been swindled from victims.

Almost 60% of Americans have received text messages or scam phone calls related to the virus.     

What you can do about it

There is no doubt that criminals will use the mass storm and COVID-19 cancellations to launch new scams. There are several things that you can do to stay safe. The most important is to only deal with the airline directly. Here are more preventive measures:

  • Be very cautious about a phone call or text message that claims to be able to rebook your flight. Some thieves will charge you a small fee for the service, but they can’t actually rectify the situation.
  • In the same type of scam, some will claim that they can get you a refund on your canceled flight. These scams can work in two ways: charging you a fee or collecting your details. The latter is used to claim a refund on your behalf, but you’ll never receive the money.
  • Another popular scam is that of “free” vacations. This scam has been used for many years but could be adapted to serve as a “free” vacation as compensation for a canceled flight. These vacations are never free, as many victims found that they had to pay a fee to “book” the holiday. In most cases, there is no vacation after payment is made.
  • The FTC has also warned that you could get robocalls about vacation deals. It is illegal for a company to contact you about their products if they don’t have your permission. The FTC explains that if they are already breaking the law with the call, other parts of the “deal” might also be illegal.
  • Be on the lookout for offers for private charter flights. Many stranded passengers might be looking at alternative ways to get to their destination, and a private charter flight is enticing. But the FTC warns that charter flight scams are on the rise. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Special Authorities Division maintains a list of approved public charter flights.

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