PHOENIX – With temperatures skyrocketing into triple digits, many Arizonans are scrambling to book getaways in cooler places to beat the heat. Before you book a hotel, Attorney General Mark Brnovich wants to warn consumers about the latest travel scams and how to avoid them. By following the tips below, Arizona consumers can stay safe, avoid the scams, and make the most of their vacations.
“Booking your travel arrangements through trusted sources, asking questions, and reading the fine print are the first steps in avoiding vacation nightmares,” said Attorney General Mark Brnovich. “Paying attention to the details when planning your trip can help keep your family safe and allow you to rest a little easier on the road.”
Some of the top tips include:
- Watch out for bait and switch scams: With many third-party travel websites and online booking agents, it can be difficult to know who you’re dealing with. Fraudulent and deceptive online travel booking websites often mislead and trick consumers into believing they are booking directly with the hotel. Certain sites lead consumers to believe they are booking through a hotel’s website, but in fact a third party is taking their money and leaving them with different rooms or even without hotel rooms. Often times, these third-party companies will charge your credit card immediately or tack on undisclosed fees. Unless using a known and trusted site, before you book online or through a third party, consider calling the hotel to confirm that the website is legitimate or to book directly. Don't trust a website or assume it is legit just because it comes up near the top of search results.
- Travel with Companies and Sites You Trust: Stick to trusted travel sites when booking online, and research the site before making a purchase. The few dollars seemingly saved by booking with a company you do not trust could cost you a fortune down the road. Book directly with the hotel or resort whenever possible.
- Investigate the Deal: Always check with the Better Business Bureau for any consumer complaints or reviews concerning the businesses that you plan to use while on vacation. Trusted friends, neighbors, and relatives may also have suggestions. A little leg work can go a long way, but make sure the information comes from a source you trust, and be sure to submit your own reviews when your vacation is over.
- Examine the Fine Print: Many companies place important disclosures in the so-called “fine print.” Before making a purchase, you should take the time to thoroughly review all the terms and conditions. Some travel companies and hotels charge mandatory fees that may not be included in the advertised price. Be wary of any company that refuses to explain the fine print language or rushes you to sign something before giving you the chance to review it.
- Free Vacations Can Cost a Lot: Be extremely cautious of “free” or nearly-free, all‑inclusive vacation packages. Just as there is “no such thing as a free lunch,” there is no such thing as a free vacation. Often the amenities and perks advertised are not as they appear. There may be hidden restrictions and charges that can ruin your vacation or cost you a bundle, and you may be forced to sit through lengthy, high-pressure timeshare presentations. Even the savviest consumers can be caught off guard in those situations, so consider avoiding them altogether.
- Know Your Refund Options: Always ask about the refund policy, and if one is offered, make sure you get that promise in writing. Canceling your vacation may be the furthest thing from your mind, but you still need to know what to expect if either you or the business cancels your reservation. Also be sure to check if you will be charged a deposit at the time you make a reservation. If booking a property through a popular room-sharing or short term rental site, make sure you know the different cancellation policies for each property. Properties have different cancellation notice requirements, including strict no refund policies.
- Get Your Contract: Legitimate businesses will always provide a written contract guaranteeing your reservation. This is your way of ensuring that businesses will provide the services as agreed, and holding businesses accountable if they do not fulfill their end of the bargain.
- Consider Credit Cards: Consider purchasing your travel with a credit card rather than a debit card. Never use a wire transfer service like Western Union or MoneyGram. Credit cards give you more protection if a travel company attempts to defraud you. If you have been defrauded, filing a chargeback with your credit card company may help get your money back and stop the scammer from victimizing more consumers.
- Avoid Robocall Vacations: Robocalls from companies trying to sell you something are more than just annoying. Chances are you've received a recorded message telling you you've won a cruise or a free stay at a resort. Unless you have given the company express consent to call you, business robocalls are almost always against the law. Consumers should show extreme caution with any business that tries to sell vacation packages and travel deals through telemarketing. If the telemarketer asks for personal information or wants you to send money to collect your prize, it's probably a scam.
- Vacation Rental Scams: Beware of owners asking for wire transfers. Consumers paying by credit cards have more protections in case of a scam. Is the rental a new listing or does it have a history of reviews from other users? Read the user reviews for the property and be cautious of any rental that includes very few photos. Communicate with the owner or host only using an official website and resist requests to communicate using other means to exchange information.
For more consumer protection tips and news on local scams, visit the Arizona Attorney General’s Office website at www.azag.gov.
If you believe you have been the victim of a travel-related scam or any other type of consumer fraud, please contact the Attorney General’s Office in Phoenix at (602) 542-5763, in Tucson at (520) 628-6648, or outside the metro areas at (800) 352-8431. Bilingual consumer protection staff is available to assist. Consumers can also file complaints online by visiting the Attorney General’s website at https://www.azag.gov/complaints/consumer.