26 May VACATION / TRAVEL SCAMS
Dr. Sherry McCoy PhD
is a freelance writer & actor for the Stop Senior Scams Acting Program (SSSAP) in Los Angeles. Follow SSSAP on Facebook . For more info re: SSSAP, contact Adrienne Omansky at SSSAP4U@gmail.com. Questions for the writer should be directed to “Dear Sherry” at Not Born Yesterday! P.O. Box 722, Brea, CA 92822 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
VACATION / TRAVEL SCAMS
Dr. Sherry McCoy, PhD – Stop Senior Scams ℠ Acting Program
It’s June of 2023 and summer has finally arrived! Since restrictions on travel have opened up again after the pandemic years, many seniors are making plans to travel and take a long awaited and well-deserved vacation. Sadly, however, travel scams are quite plentiful these days. According to AARP,* “The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more than 53,891 reports of travel-related scams (including timeshare scams) in 2021, costing consumers $95 million — though the real numbers are likely far higher. Experts believe scams of all sorts are grossly underreported.” To make sure your vacation remains “scam free,” please take the following guidelines into consideration when making travel plans and when you’re out there on the road. Being aware of some of the prevalent travel scams will help you stay safe and out of harm’s way. Have a great vacation!
**FREE TRIP SCAM – Usually this scam starts off with an unsolicited robo-call, text, email, or letter from a company you probably have never heard of before. The message is — You’ve won a free trip or a cruise or vacation! All you have to do to collect your free trip, the scammers say, is pay a small fee, maybe join a travel club, and provide them with your credit card information to verify your identity. And usually, there’s quite a bit of high pressure for you to act quickly to claim your free trip. All these details are “red flags” that this free trip offer is FAKE! There is nothing “free” about it. It’s a scam! Remember — “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true!”
**LUXURY TRIP SCAM – This is a scam that likely comes to you via an unsolicited phone call, text, email or letter, and lets you know that you can book a trip to a 5-star luxury hotel or resort for a ridiculously low price! The reality, however, is that you’ll likely wind up in a beat-up, rundown 2-star resort with a view of the trash can area, and a mile hike to the beach! – Not a vacation. Some telltale signs that the luxury trip offer is bogus are: 1) the scammers say it’s a 5-star resort but won’t give you the name of the hotel. 2) If you are given the name of the resort / hotel, either a) you can’t find any online listings or reviews of it, or b) all the online reviews of it are bad. If you do decide to book a “luxury trip,” make sure you follow these guidelines: 1) Call the hotel / resort to verify your reservations, room, amenities, and location. 2) Get a copy of the company’s cancellation and refund policy and review it thoroughly. 3) Find out about “mandatory” fees, e.g., meals, pool, gym, and internet, etc.
**VACATION RENTAL SCAM – This scam is very popular nowadays as lots of people want to rent a vacation home for their time away on holiday. Unfortunately, scammers are taking full advantage of this situation by advertising vacation homes that 1) are in serious disrepair, 2) are NOT really available to rent (e.g., already occupied by renters or legitimate owners of the property), or 3) are in actuality “not real,” i.e., the vacation homes DO NOT exist! Scammers have been known to hijack well-known, authentic property rental websites and replace legitimate company contact information with their fake contact info and create fake listings using pictures of homes that are not in the area. A vacation rental listing is likely fake if: 1) the vacation rental price is significantly lower than other similar vacation rentals in the same area. 2) the listed owner or manager asks you to send a deposit or full payment — up front — via wire rather than a credit card. Protect yourself by 1) Reading the contract thoroughly BEFORE you offer payment, and 2) Googling the address of the vacation rental to verify that the contacts info is consistent across all platforms.
Vacationing abroad can be a wonderful expansive experience, but it also comes with some additional challenges, particularly for seniors. If your travel plans include traveling abroad, please be aware of the following scams:
***FAKE TAXIS – Scammers may try to pick up tourists and then demand exorbitant prices for lousy service. This can be dangerous especially if you’re traveling in unfamiliar areas. To avoid “fake taxis,” always use verified taxi or rideshare services, i.e., legitimate taxi stands at airports and hotels.
***FREE GIFTS – Con artists may try to give tourists a “free gift,” e.g., a small piece of jewelry, a trinket, etc., but as soon as the “free gift” is accepted, the con artists begin demanding money. If the tourist doesn’t comply, the con artists make a big scene until money is given. The important message here is: DON’T ACCEPT GIFTS FROM STRANGERS.
***PRETEND TOUR GUIDES – Avoid “tour guides offering huge discounts” at popular tourist attractions. You might end up with an empty wallet and nothing to show for it. Stick with official, approved tour guides when traveling to unfamiliar places.
***LAW ENFORCEMENT IMPERSONATORS – In this scam, you are approached by someone wearing a uniform who demands to see your travel papers. The fake “officers” may take money out of your wallet or claim that you have violated some law and demand you pay a fine. This scam is less common than other types of travel scams, but it is reportedly becoming more prevalent in larger cities overseas. If you find yourself in a situation like this, it is best to remain calm. Respectfully ask to see the proper ID, and don’t hand over any papers till you have determined you are indeed speaking with an authentic law-enforcement authority.
***PICKPOCKETING SCHEMES – Pickpocket thieves are quite common in most major cities around the world, especially places that draw a lot of tourists. Pickpockets often work in teams and use a variety of “distractions” (e.g., a staged accident; or pretending they are injured and need help crossing the street, etc.) to take your attention away from their nefarious activities. Then, when you are “distracted,” they rip you off. The best way to protect yourself from pickpockets is to keep your valuables in zipped up pockets or safely secured with a travel belt.
***JUICE JACKING – “Juice Jacking” is a cyber-theft tactic used by criminals to steal your personal information from your cell phone, tablet, or other electronic devices. When you’re traveling, it’s tempting to use a free USB port charging station to juice-up your cell phone if the battery is running low. But scammers have found ways to install malware and monitoring software in public USB port charging stations, which are often found in airports, hotels, shopping malls, etc. Criminals may also intentionally leave infected cables at charging stations, or give away infected cables as promotional gifts, in order to gain access to your personal information and thus steal your identity. The best way to avoid juice jacking is to travel with your own charger or external battery and avoid using USB port charging stations.
***THE HOTEL SWITCH – This is a switch and bait scam tactic. Usually a “local” or someone posing as a “local” identifies you as a tourist and asks where you plan to stay. When you tell them what hotel you plan to stay in, the “local” will tell you it’s really bad there and suggest another place that would be more to your liking. The problem is that the “local” is most likely being paid to send you to a particular hotel … or, worst case scenario, could be setting you up for a robbery by taking you to some secluded area. Also, please be aware that this type of scam can happen with overly aggressive “helpful” people (e.g., drivers, hotel clerks, valets) at airports and other travel hubs.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM TRAVEL SCAMS
**Always use a credit card to book travel arrangements. If the booking turns out to be fraudulent, you have some recourse with the credit card company. Not so, however, if you pay with cash or other forms of payment.
**Book trips directly with the airline, hotel, cruise organization, etc., or with an aggregator like Travelocity.
**Before making any payments, get copies of your travel contracts and review thoroughly.
**Book tours through reputable organizations such as AARP, your university alumni association, etc.
**Always call to confirm and verify your travel arrangements (hotel, airlines, cruise, tours, etc.).
**For chartered flights, make sure to verify your flight is on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s list of approved charters — https://www.transportation.gov/policy/aviation-policy/licensing/public-charters
*Report suspected travel fraud to the FTC at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-1, or call 877-382-4357. Also, if it’s an online fraud, you can report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at https://www.ic3.gov/
Be Empowered. Find Your Voice. Speak Out About Fraud!
WHERE TO REPORT SCAMS
Federal Trade Commission at 877-382-4357 or online at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-1.
For questions about Medicare fraud / abuse, contact Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) at 1-855-613-7080.
U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging’s Fraud Hotline at 1-855-303-9470.
*See “Travel Scams,” https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2019/travel.html Updated 12-14-22.
**See “Travel Scams Targeting Seniors – Don’t Fall For It,” https://www.seniorsafetyreviews.com/travel-scams-targeting-seniors-dont-fall-for-it/
***See “Seniors, Beware! Avoid These Travel Scams While Abroad” by Lauren Saccone, February 26, 2023, at https://www.cheapoair.com/miles-away/senior-travel-scams-to-avoid-when-abroad/
RECENT SSSAP EVENTS
Pic Caption: On May 16th members of the Stop Senior Scams Acting Program were honored in a presentation at City Hall for Los Angeles Senior Fraud Awareness Day! SSSAP and friends are seen here with Adrienne Omansky, SSSAP Founder and Director (front row, center), along with LA City Councilwoman Heather Hutt (to her left), and LA City Council President Paul Krekorian (to her right). It was a great day of celebration for all the work SSSAP has done to bring increased awareness about senior scams! CONGRATULATIONS!
Pic caption: On May 18th, SSSAP presented a program in honor of National Senior Fraud Awareness Day and Los Angeles Senior Fraud Awareness Day at the NoHo Senior Arts Colony Apartment Complex! Seen here, left to right, are Officer Johnathan Ojeda; Cairo Rodriguez, Field Deputy for Council President Paul Krekorian; Madeline Sprints, SSSAP Member; and Doreen Kaye, SSSAP Ambassador. A wonderful time was had by all!
Remember: You may be a target, but you don’t have to be a victim!
Dr. Sherry McCoy, PhD is a freelance writer & actor for the Stop Senior Scams ℠ Acting Program (SSSAP) in Los Angeles. Follow SSSAP on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SSSAP2016/?fref=ts. For more info re: SSSAP, contact Adrienne Omansky at SSSAP4U@gmail.com. Questions for the writer should be directed to “Dear Sherry” at Not Born Yesterday! P.O. Box 722, Brea, CA 92822 or email@example.com.