With Spring Break being the busiest travel time of the year for both airlines and hotels alike, it can set the stage for college students getting scammed. Last year the hospitality industry saw a record amount of spring break scams that generally centered around the use of 3rd party websites like Craigslist or other condo rental sites set up by Owners to rent their condos or homes.
Scammers would “scrape” listings of Owners accommodations listed online by sites like VRBO.com, Homeaway, or Flipkey, a practice where the scammer copies pictures, descriptions, and addresses of real units for rent. They would then take this information and repost the listings on sites like Craigslist at rock bottom prices. Broke college kids in search of a cheap spring break trip are easy prey for criminals.
The criminals would require a payment by certified bank check or money order or cash or even direct deposit into their accounts they opened with fictitious information to be quickly closed once that check or deposit cleared. Sometimes, they could even accept credit cards via the use of a simple online payment gateway like Square.
According to Chad Hart, the President of Spring Break Mafia a spring break tour company, they saw a record amount of upset students in their office on South Padre Island last year that showed up with fake reservation confirmations. These students would go to the address provided only to be greeted by a surprised property Owner that would tell them their unit was either already rented by them or not even for rent at all to students.
Here are some simple tips to avoid getting scammed this Spring Break:
* Only book accommodations through legitimate, recognized condo rental agencies whether online or brick and mortar, directly with hotels, or with tour operators where a physical office address can be verified by Google or Bing
* Always use an actual credit card (not a debit card) to pay. Credit card companies offer financial protection to their cardholders if fraud does occur as a dispute can be opened.
* Do some basic research. Go to their website. Does it look legitimate? The one very easy way to determine this is to go to www.whois.com and you can look up the real or actual owner of a website and their address. If that information is hidden, avoid booking. Additionally, you can tell on this site how long the website domain has been active. A brand new website domain is not generally a good thing.
* Check accreditations. Look for membership with the Better Business Bureau. You can access a free report on that company by going to www.bbb.org. Long membership and a decent rating is of course the only way to go. Look for membership to the American Society of Travel Agents(www.asta.com) for travel agents and tour operators; Hoteliers are very easy to check out on www.tripadvisor.com. A poor rating can be an indication of where there is smoke there is fire.
* Inquire with the Attorney General of your State to see if there are any consumer complaints against that firm, as well as the Federal Trade Commission.
* Call them. Sounds simple, but in todays world of Social Media and text messaging, it’s not. Does anyone answer the phone or is it voicemail? Does the person or Company you are dealing with only communicate via email or text? If so, that’s a big red flag.
* Ask for references of their past clients. If they cannot provide them, don’t walk away…RUN
*Lastly, if the deal seems to be the cheapest you have found, way under what the market seems to be asking, or too good to be true — trust you gut, it probably is.
Chad Hart the President of Inertia Tours Inc. is the best selling Author of the book “The Definitive Guide to Student Travel” and can be reached direct at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 800 821 2176 x 101