I'm always up for a great warm-weather vacation, preferably near the ocean somewhere. There's nothing better than relaxing on the beach with an ice-cold beverage in hand.
Getting to that perfect, refreshing moment can be a scary prospect for some, though. With all of the scammers in the world, you need to be particularly cautious when getting ready for your next trip.
Travel scams aren't just about stealing your luggage or selling upgrades that you don't need. If you're not looking closely, it's easy to fall for rackets that can really cost you financially.
That's why you need to know about these three online travel scams, some of the most serious out there.
Visa application scam
Different countries have different rules for entrance. Some require visitors to have a visa before entering their country.
A visa is normally a stamp or sticker placed inside your passport that authorizes you to be in certain countries.
Many nations only require a valid passport to visit. Others, like India for example, require a valid passport AND a valid visa to enter and exit for any purpose.
Some people might feel that they need help applying for one of these visas. There are companies, that for a relatively high fee, offer to help speed up this process.
Warning: this is a scam!
These companies do not have special tricks to expedite the visa application process. You need to go through the proper channels.
The safest way to get a visa is to go through your destination country's consulate. You should be able to find visa application forms online. Print them, fill them out and either mail them or hand deliver them to the nation's local consulate.
Once the documents are processed, you will be sent a visa in the mail that attaches to your passport. This can take up to two months, so make sure that you plan well ahead.
If you do need help acquiring a visa, ask your travel agent. They will be able to assist you with this.
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.
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.