Vacation Scam Alert: Families and College Students Urged to Beware

Vacation scams are on the riseWith school vacations approaching, consumers are being warned to watch out for an expected increase in scams linked to school vacation weeks this month and next.

Scam vacation agents want to take advantage of your wintertime blues, targeting would-be travelers with promises of deep-discount getaways and free trips, but these often-phony offers only result in vanished first payments and the harvesting of personal information.State officials said the scam, which spikes around the time of February school vacations, works like this: Families are tempted by a cut-rate or prize trip to the ski slopes, or even a warm midwinter week in Florida or California, but to get the deal they have to first pay a reservation fee or secure their "place" on the trip with personal and financial information.

The scammer then vanishes and leaves the victim with little prospect of getting any of their money back, and potentially ripe for further damage via the exposed personal info.

"The bottom line is that you must do your homework before you purchase a vacation or provide personal information to an unknown source," Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin said in a statement.

"February school vacation is a great time to play in the snow but it's a bad time to get snowed by crooks and scam artists," he said.

Kilmartin's office has logged complaint calls about scam winter vacations as recently as last year. In the past, according to the office, the fake enticements have also extended into March, duping spring-break-bound college students in search of swank, but cheap, rooms. When these undergrads arrive they find they've been dumped into much-less-attractive quarters.

What's the best way to handle an offer that seems too good to be true? Consider that it probably is, in fact, too good to be true.

There are some clues to look for, however:
  • See if the sender's email address is from outside the United States.
  • Compare the email address to the resort name -- especially if the facility seems reputable. (The address should match the company name.)
  • Assume that any upfront payment on a "free" vacation is one thing only -- a scam.

Once the trip is booked, there are protective measures that can help avoid unwanted problems.
  • Work only with reputable travel companies and resorts. (Make sure there are working phone numbers and a confirmed snail mail addresses for the people with whom you're dealing.)
  • Double-check and verify all flights, rentals and rooms; and get an entire contract in writing (including cancellation and refund policies).
  • Always read the fine print.

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