Friday, June 22, 2007

Consumer Alert: Dream vacations can become real nightmares with travel-related fraud

This Better Business Bureau consumer bulletin is sponsored by San Diego Gas & Electric, a Sempra Energy utility.

The summer vacation season is upon us and scams can turn your long‑awaited trip into a travel nightmare. It has been reported that vacation scams cost consumers more than $10 billion each year.

Among the types of complaints reported to BBBs across the country, one of the most frequent involves travel. Out of the 3,900 industries the BBB monitors, the travel industry consistently ranks near or in the top 25 for number of complaints. The complaints generally involve consumers who report they felt misled or deceived after receiving less or something different than what was promised or expected.

For example, consumers have criticized so‑called "deluxe accommodations" that turned out to be, in reality, far less than first‑class. The sales brochure or videotape may show beautiful sunsets along white sandy beaches, smiling, healthy couples with tropical drinks and a smart looking hotel lobby. However, when you arrive you may find a substandard, even dirty motel room that's located in a crime‑infested neighborhood several miles away from the beach. Other consumers have been critical of incomplete information regarding airline schedules and too many restrictions.

Among the recent travel-related scams reported to the BBB:

-- A San Diego-based firm selling discounted vacation packages on eBay to Hawaii, Mexico and the Virgin Islands scammed consumers across the U.S. out of several hundred to more than $5,000 throughout 2006 and early 2007. Travelers were tricked with bait and switch tactics and ended up paying much more for the vacation packages than they planned. After paying for the vacations, some consumers also found that rooms, travel, and other reservations were made with invalid credit cards, or never booked at all.

-- A company in Missouri conducted seminars in local hotels that promised travel incentives, discounts and assistance in becoming a “travel agent.” The BBB found that the company routinely charged consumers membership, administrative, and renewal fees that greatly exceeded any discount on vacation packages, and that much of the information activities “sold” by the company could be found elsewhere free-of-charge to consumers.

Here are some tips from the BBB on how to spot and avoid the threat of vacation and travel-related fraud:

-- Gather Information.

Don’t be fooled by professional looking Web sites or e-mails. Few legitimate businesses can afford to give away products and services of real value or substantially undercut other companies’ prices. Visit the BBB Web site,, or call the BBB for a free reliability report on the travel company making the offer.

-- Ask detailed questions and get it in writing.

Get names of airlines, hotels, car rental companies and travel providers. Consider contacting these businesses directly to verify arrangements. Always ask for confirmation of your travel arrangements in writing and ensure you receive copies of cancellation and refund policies.

-- Pay with a credit card and avoid deals that require you to book 60 days in advance.

Credit card companies may allow consumers to dispute a charge within 60 days of purchase. Representatives from eBay also caution consumers against paying with personal checks and strongly recommend paying with a method such as PayPal that has built-in protection measures.

-- Contact the BBB if you are a victim of fraud.

The BBB helps consumers and businesses through complaint and dispute resolution services. Victims of travel-related scams can visit or call the BBB to file a complaint.

Ultimately, consumer complaints expose bad businesses and help other consumers avoid becoming victims of vacation and travel-related fraud.

Before booking travel plans, consumers need to do their research and check with the BBB for trustworthy advice on dependable businesses to keep from getting burned this summer.

Please visit for additional consumer alerts, warnings and tips.

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