Elliott Greenblott | Fraud Watch: Don’t Let Scammers Spoil Your Vacation | Chroniclers
Buying fraud awareness and avoidance starts with a few key tips: If it sounds too good to be true…. Don’t let emotion dominate decision-making, don’t give in to the crowd mentality, and don’t let scarcity dictate your behavior.
With the pandemic rapidly returning to “normal”, these warnings have become essential to surviving the flood of scams. According to law enforcement reports, a significant number of scams appear to have increased with regard to vacation travel. Recently, this column warned against fraud in the promotion of vacation hospitality places. Car rental is another opportunity for crooks to part with our money. They are well aware that when we fly to a vacation spot, we almost always have to hire a vehicle. They are also aware that rental cars are now marketed at a significantly higher cost. A year ago, weekly rentals were available for less than $ 250; the same rental cars today cost over $ 1,000.
The Federal Trade Commission recently issued a warning regarding bogus automakers, websites and customer services that have the appearance of legitimacy. The catch: most ask for prepayment with gift cards or debit cards (legitimate rental companies ask for credit card numbers and, in fact, many don’t accept debit cards).
The scam scenario looks like this:
You need to rent a car for a summer vacation in Colorado, so you do a general Google search for “rental cars.” Research Reveals 3.84 Billion Results In Less Than One Second! Wow! Of course, you see the usual companies (eg, Hertz, Avis, Alamo) as well as travel consolidators (eg, Priceline, Expedia, Travelocity). But, you also see names that you probably don’t recognize. Prices you find it hard to believe feature high in the results. So you click on the website link, where you see attractive cars at very low prices. The website provides a toll-free number to contact customer service where you can check charges and prepay with a debit card or gift card. In addition, the web page displays several testimonials from satisfied customers. Once again, WOW! You provide debit card information and receive a confirmation number. Two weeks later, at the arrival airport, you find out that the rental company does not exist and the money is gone.
This scenario is playing out for travelers nationwide. How to avoid the scam?
Start with the key tips: is it too good to be true? Have you let the emotion of the opportunity take precedence over the logic? Did you give in to the crowd mentality as the testimonials show? Did the scarcity of rental cars motivate your decision? If the answer to one or more of these questions is yes, you have fallen “under the ether”, a heightened state of emotion.
The FTC provides very clear recommendations when leasing a car: 1) Research the company (don’t use their website). Enter the company name in your browser’s address line along with the word scam, review, or complaint to see if a negative record or poor customer experience is noted. Visiting the Trip Advisor, Consumer Reports, or Better Business Bureau website can be helpful and if there are no results for the business ….
2) Check the agreements with the company directly. Scammers are very capable of creating similar websites, so contact the company using their official website. Don’t use a search engine because criminals can actually pay to get their website to appear at the top of the listings.
3) As stated before, use a credit card, never gift cards or debit cards. In addition to employee benefits (insurance coverage and rewards), credit card charges can be disputed. Gift card and debit card funds can disappear without a trace.
As with much of our business today, we need to be vigilant and possibly skeptical in order to avoid falling victim to fraud. Have a safe trip!
Want a free list of anti-fraud resources? Questions? Comments? Contact me at [email protected]
Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and coordinator of the AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network. He hosts a CATV program, “Mr. Scammer”, distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland (www.gnat-tv.org).