Scammers are still trying to work their holiday magic so beware

ConsumerAffairs

Use your credit card. We repeat, USE YOUR CREDIT CARD!

Got your suitcase out and starting to pack for the holidays? Ok, that’s cool, but give us a couple of minutes to tell you about some holiday travel scams and issues that are starting to show up on ConsumerAffairs and the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) radar.

And they’re happening no matter where you go or how you’re going to get there. 

Free vacations

The first scam you need to be aware of is the “free vacation” scam. “Except the organizer says to pay a fee to get your prize. And just like that, you spotted the scam, because real prizes are free. Anyone asking you to pay for a prize is a scammer,” says Andrew Rayo, a consumer education specialist, at the FTC.

And a free vacation is doubly doubtful if it comes in the form of unsolicited emails, phone calls, or messages.

Rental cars

The second scam is something that may be a little closer to most consumers – the “rental car” scam. Rental cars are in high demand for the holidays, but if you suddenly find an available vehicle that’s cheaper than cheap, be aware that a scammer may be lurking in the rearview mirror.

“Check it out before you bite,” Rayo suggests. “And if someone asks you to prepay for a rental with a gift card or prepaid debit card, it’s a scam.”

Though not scams, some consumers think some rental car policies are veering in that direction. There are three things to watch out for from car rental agencies. First, is the company a little heavy-handed with toll chargebacks.

ViewFromTheWing’s Gary Leff reported that Hertz dinged a customer $519.80 for driving their rental car through a single $1 toll. ConsumerAffairs reviewers have also complained about toll issues with Dollar, Avis, and Fox.

Another rental car are-you-kidding-me meme that might be starting to develop is one that takes a leaf from an old Seinfield episode, when Jerry gets to the reservation desk, he finds out that there’s his “reservation” doesn’t mean he has a car waiting for him.

The third questionable car rental scenario is fees. Leff says that bookings made directly with Hertz will now charge a no show fee equal to the base rate for a day’s rental. One ConsumerAffairs reader also mentioned that Hertz charged them a rate higher than the daily rental fee just to have an extra driver.

Real estate rentals

“Looking for a place to ring in the new year? Like with rental cars, scammers hijack real rental listings — changing the contact information and reposting listings on different sites,” Rayo commented.

“Then they ask you to pay for fees, deposits, or rent using a wire transfer service like Western Union or MoneyGram. Some scammers also list places that don’t actually exist.”

Fake taxicabs, fake insurance, too

Be careful when hiring a taxi at an airport. Fake taxi cabs started running wild in Chicago earlier this year and who knows where else. If someone rolls down their window and asks you where you’re going, make sure they have a meter and ask to see their city taxi license before you get in. 

Fake travel insurance can also show up this time of year. Again, if something comes into your inbox unsolicited, you’re probably being phished. If you do need travel insurance, though, you should read ConsumerAffairs reviews on who our readers think are the most reputable.

Here’s how to avoid scams while planning your trip

It may be too late if you’ve already signed up for some of these trip components, but if you haven’t, the FTC offers these suggestions:

Do some research. When searching for a rental company, include words like “scam,” “review,” and “complaint.”

Spot rental listing scams. Check the website of the rental company -- using a link you know is real -- to see if the property is listed there as well. The listing may be a scam if it isn't.

Pay by credit card. Credit, not debit, cards, give you the best protections. For example, when one ConsumerAffairs reviewer had an issue with a rental car, she solicited American Express’ help and with one keystroke, AMEX denied the charge. 

Credit cards are a scammer’s biggest nightmare because with a credit card, it’s easy for the consumer to get their money back, whereas with wire transfers through Western Union or MoneyGram, cash, cryptocurrency, or payment apps, it’s impossible to get your money back.

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