A peak season in travel is fast approaching. Planning a trip for the holidays can be stressful as one coordinates flights, car rentals and lodging. Most travelers look for deals that will give “more bang for the buck.” The last thing on one’s mind is questioning the authenticity of a reputable hotel’s website. However, a significant number of hotel and vacation booking websites are fraudulent, creating headaches for travelers and the hotel industry.
A recent survey conducted by the American Hotel and Lodging Association indicates that this problem is much larger than many would suspect. The AHLA found that 6 percent of travelers booked a hotel from a phony website. In 2014, around 15 million hotel bookings were deceptive, far higher than industry estimates of 2.5 million. Overall, consumers and the industry are being fleeced of $1.3 billion per year due to online booking scams.
How does this happen? Travelers are faced with a captivating website and ingenious process of deception. Websites are artfully designed to mimic a reputable travel agency or hotel. The name, logo and pictures of hotels look legitimate to the untrained eye. Fraudsters will often include the hotel’s name in the URL to ensure the fake site appears in webpage search results.
Mobile technology has not helped the situation. Websites are set up to be mobile friendly and make it easy for travelers to call to make reservations. At the call center, agents pretend to be hotel personnel, preying on unsuspecting consumers.
When a traveler arrives at a hotel only to find their reservation was fraudulent, vacations can be ruined. If a room is available, vacationers may have to pay higher rates, endure additional charges, and may not receive credit for rewards programs. Hotel staff often understands and empathize with consumers who face this predicament. In cases where the hotel has received a deposit, they will refund the client or attempt to provide accommodations. In other situations, charges can be disputed with the credit card company.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has gotten involved, issuing an alert on its website this past summer, a peak time in the hospitality industry.
Here are the FTC’s tips for avoiding being a victim of hotel booking scams:
- If it’s important to you to book directly through the hotel chain, consider using the toll-free number or URL on your rewards card or featured in the company’s TV or print ads.
- Whether you choose to book through a chain or through a third-party site, read the details carefully with an eye out for any fees or surcharges that may lurk in the fine print or behind vaguely labeled hyperlinks.
- If you received an email confirmation, travel with a printed copy or have it easily accessible on your smartphone.
- Before you hit the road, use a number you know to be genuine to call the hotel directly. Double-check that your reservation is in the system.
- Share these tips with your company travel office or anyone else who makes reservations on behalf of your business.
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