The following are common examples of how scammers might attempt to defraud unsuspecting consumers:
Legitimate methods of purchasing travel
commonly perpetrated to commit fraud
Vacation Certificates – This is an arrangement (contract) whereby a consumer pays in advance for the use of travel accommodations or facilities, and at the time of purchase no specific dates are designated for use. While vacation certificates themselves are not usually scams, unethical sellers of travel are sometimes able to use them to perpetrate fraud. The positive sides to this method of purchasing travel are that the prices are usually extraordinarily low, the certificate may be good for up to 18 months, and the consumer has the right to a full refund if he decides to cancel the contract in writing within 30 days of purchase or receipt of the certificate. The consumer may also cancel if the accommodations and facilities are not available as provided in the contract. Before signing a contract for a vacation certificate, determine all the costs involved in using it. Make sure you receive all exclusions in writing, as it will be your responsibility to pay for anything not specifically mentioned in the contract. Some of the risks to this method of purchasing travel are that the dates you desire may not be available when you call to arrange your trip, or the facilities that are provided turn out to be substandard and unacceptable. In either of these instances, the company will usually offer to “upgrade” you to a more expensive vacation, but the cost associated with doing so will almost assuredly negate the savings that originally caused you to purchase the vacation certificate.
Travel Clubs – When operated legitimately, travel clubs can be profitable for the overseeing company (usually a travel agency), and at the same time provide deeply discounted vacation accommodations and travel opportunities to its members. However, some do not operate with the traveler’s best interest in mind and simply use this as a tool to scam the consumer. In that type of scenario, after signing a contract and paying both membership fees and annual dues, it won’t be long before you begin to experience the negative aspects of your decision to join. Numerous restrictions will be placed on when you can take a trip, or you could be required to pay an additional handling charge of up to $100 just to book the reservation. It might not be until after you actually arrive at your destination that you become fully aware of what is, or is not, included in a vacation “special” offered by the travel club. Additional fees may be required for you to enjoy certain amenities at the resort. If you find that the accommodations are less than desirable, the representative who checked you in will probably offer the ability to upgrade. But again, this will mean a substantial addition to the cost of the vacation. Read the entire travel club contract thoroughly and ask detailed questions before signing it, as you may only have a small window of time, typically three days, to cancel.
Advance Payment Travel – After answering an advertisement or filling out a card to enter a drawing, the victim is contacted and informed that he has won a “free luxury vacation” or a “free cruise.” The only requirement is that you pay the taxes, port charges, or some other “fee.” The scammer will want to immediately charge this fee to your credit card or he will ask for your bank account number in order to debit the amount directly from your account. They may even offer to send an overnight delivery service to your home to pick up the payment. Don’t give them anything. If you’re told that you’ve won a free trip or travel package, Florida law stipulates that you cannot be charged anything other than the cost associated with getting your prize to you.
Vacation Rental – This scam is usually perpetrated through websites that offer classified advertising. The victim finds an incredible deal on a vacation rental property and is told by the scammer that all he needs is a deposit (typically by wire transfer). When the victim arrives for his vacation getaway, the property may not even exist. If it does exist, the accommodations may be far less desirable than what was portrayed in pictures on the website, or the victim may find out that the scammer isn’t even the owner and had no authority to rent the property out.
High-Pressure Timeshare Purchase – There are two different scenarios with this scam. In the first, victims are promised a valuable free gift for simply attending a timeshare sales presentation. To obtain the gift, the victim must pay a fee for delivery or processing. If the gift ever actually arrives, it will typically be worth less than the delivery/processing fee that had to be paid. In the second scenario, the victim is offered a free weekend at a timeshare resort in exchange for sitting through a high-pressure sales presentation. After taking advantage of the free weekend at the resort and enduring the sales presentation without purchasing a timeshare, the victim is contacted again four or five years later by the same company. The caller informs him that he never fulfilled his contractual requirement to listen to a second timeshare sales presentation within three years, and thus now owes a substantial amount of money for the “free weekend” he spent. He is then told that if he would be willing to make an immediate $250 payment the company won’t pursue legal action and ruin his good credit.