BBB: Don’t let spring break scammers leave you broke

Travel experts predict that more people will travel than in 2019 for the first time since before COVID struck.

That’s sure to mean that with spring break approaching, families and college students will take advantage of the opportunity to board planes, trains, and automobiles for exciting getaways.

The Better Business Bureau warns, however, it also is an opportunity for scammers to offer fraudulent vacation rentals, scam third-party booking sites, and phony travel agencies designed to appeal to consumers looking for great vacation discounts.

“Now is the time to be cautious,” said Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau. “Consumers not doing their due diligence when making their spring break travel plans and finalizing payments can fall directly into the hands of con artists.”

A tourist boat passes by other boats staying near the cherry blossoms in full bloom along the Sumida River in Tokyo. While beach destinations remain popular for spring break, the Better Business Bureau warns scammers often take advantage of consumer habits and capitalize on trending internet searches, enticing potential victims with great deals to popular destinations or all-inclusive packages. The Associated Press file, 2017

Scammers often take advantage of consumer habits and capitalize on trending internet searches, enticing potential victims with great deals to popular destinations or all-inclusive packages. While these scams happen year-round, now is the peak time.

“Since the beginning of the year, 97 travel, vacation, and timeshare-related scam reports have been filed in BBB Scamtracker,” Bernas said. “Losses reported total nearly $140,000 so far.”

The Federal Trade Commission reports nationwide in 2022, there were 65,000 reports of travel scams. Travelers lost more than $105 million.

“Begin planning early so you are not rushing to make last-minute arrangements,” Bernas advises to protect oneself. “Scammers capitalize on consumers in a hurry and may not have the time to verify they are booking with a legitimate location or business. Always verify a company is legit and check for customer complaints or reviews on”

The most reported travel scams are:

Vacation rental con. These con artists lure in vacationers with the promise of low fees and great amenities. The “owner” creates a false sense of urgency — such as telling potential clients that another vacationer is interested in the rental — to get payment upfront before doing sufficient research or questioning the ad’s legitimacy.

“Free” vacation scams. When a cruise or travel company advertises a vacation as “free,” it does not necessarily mean the trip is without cost or restrictions. Watch out for add-on fees for air transportation, port charges, taxes, tips, and other undisclosed fees.

Hotel scams. When staying in a hotel, beware of scammers who use various techniques to obtain credit card information, including fake front desk calls, “free” wi-fi connections and fake food delivery.

Third-party booking site scams. If you book your airfare, hotel, or other travel through a third-party website, use caution. BBB Scam Tracker continues to receive reports of scammers pretending to be online airline ticket brokers. In the most common version of the scam, travelers pay with a credit card and, shortly after making the payment, receive a call from the company asking to verify their name, address, banking information, or other personal details — something a legitimate company would never do.

To avoid falling victim to travel scam, BBB recommends prospective travelers follow these guidelines:

Get trip details in writing. Before making a final payment, get all the trip details in writing. Details should include the total cost, restrictions, cancellation penalties, and names of the airlines and hotels. Also, review and keep a copy of the airline and hotel cancellation and refund policies as well as the travel agency or booking site cancellation policies.

Avoid “too good to be true” deals. As is common in various scams, if the deal or discount seems too good to be true, it probably is. Scammers often use this tactic to lure in potential victims and use aggressive “limited time” language to entice travelers to pay before researching the business.

Avoid wiring money or using a prepaid debit card. These payments are the same as sending cash. Once the money is sent, there is no way to get it back. Paying with a credit card offers some protection and dramatically limits liability from a fraudulent purchase.

Call the rental owner. If you are not using a service that verifies properties and owners, do not negotiate a rental solely by email. Many scammers don’t live locally. Speaking with the owner on the phone and asking detailed questions about the property and local attractions will clarify whether the listing is genuine. An owner with vague answers is a clear red flag.

Be wary of unsolicited offers. Be particularly cautious if you “win” a free trip without entering a contest or sweepstakes. This is especially true if the offer is time-sensitive and requires the consumer to accept and pay for the offer immediately or risk it going to another “winner.” Check the official website of the company the offer is originating from to verify that it is legitimate.

For more tips on how to avoid travel scams, visit If you or someone you know has encountered a travel scam, report it to BBB Scam Tracker. Information provided could prevent another person from falling victim. Check out or follow us @ChicagoBBB on social media. Look for the BBB seal, The Sign of a Better Business.

• BBB of Chicago and Northern Illinois is a nonprofit that has served consumers and trustworthy businesses for 97 years and is a part of the International Association of Better Business Bureaus.

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