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3 online travel scams even the savviest tourists fall for

Third-party site hotel booking scam

Now that we're living in a digital world, it's super easy to get things done from the comfort of your own home. We no longer have to go to a travel agency to plan the next family vacation.

Everything we need is available online. You can book your own flights, hotels and rental cars with a few clicks of the mouse.

There is one thing in particular that you need to be aware of, though. Third-party hotel booking company scams.

We're not talking about online travel agencies like Expedia, Kayak or Orbitz. Those are reputable companies that aggregate their inventory directly from the actual hotels so you can select the right one for you.

Some of these third-party sites try to mimic what the official hotels' websites look like. The victim thinks they are booking and paying for a room directly with the hotel when in reality they are being ripped off.

Many times these fake sites pop-up as paid ads when you do a search for hotels online. Do NOT click on them!

If you end up booking a hotel through one of these fake sites, here are some scenarios that could happen:

  • No reservation - You show up to the hotel on the date of your reservation only to find out that you don't have one. The room was pre-paid on the site at the time the reservation was allegedly made, but the scammer just pockets the money.
  • No cancellations - Most of these sites don't have customer service centers and the phone number listed on the site will go unanswered if called. This means if you pay for a room through the site and need to cancel, you're out of luck.
  • Room not paid for - In some cases, the fake booking site will actually make the reservation at your desired hotel. However, the scammers take the victims' payment and don't apply it to the room. When the traveler shows up at the hotel, they have a room reserved but must pay for it even though they thought it was taken care of.

How to avoid hotel booking scams

  • Your best bet is to go through one of the trusted online travel agencies or search for a specific hotel online.
  • Never click on what looks like a paid ad booking site.
  • Beware of links to websites - Many fake sites will use the name of a hotel in its link to make it look official. For example, it will have the hotel name with 'reservation-desk' or something similar added to it.

Passport application services scam

If you are heading out of the country and don't already have a passport, you will probably have to do an online search for an application. This could bring you to a number of sites offering their help in speeding up the process. They claim that you will receive your passport faster if you pay them a fee.

The reality is, this is a type of passport scam.

The U.S. State Department already offers these services for either a lower fee or none at all. In fact, the U.S. government has warned travelers about using one of these so-called passport expediting or courier services.

According to the State Department, here are a few things you should know about courier companies:

  • These companies do not operate as part of the U.S. Department of State.
  • You will not receive your passport any faster than you would if you applied in person at a passport agency. Click here to see locations.
  • Courier companies charge additional fees for their services.
  • You are still required to appear in person at an acceptance facility if applying on Form DS-11, even when using a courier service.

You're much better off applying for a passport on your own.

Click here for the Department of State website that deals with passports and international travel.

Here, you can begin filling out your application online, find out where to apply in person, and check on your application status. You can also find out how to apply for an expedited passport in the case of a life or death emergency.

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