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Investigators: Protecting yourself from travel scams

Published: Aug. 19, 2021 at 9:47 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A new report from the Federal Trade Commission ranks cons involving vacation and travel as the second most commonly reported scam this year.

Frank Davis wanted to surprise his son last April by showing up to his birthday party.

Davis decided to rent a car, so he went to the search engine on his phone and said the name of the only car rental place he knew, which is Hertz Car Rental. He clicked on the first website that appeared in the search results and called the number listed on that site.

“I said I’m in my 60s and I’ve never rented a car in my life and I didn’t know what procedures to go by,” said Davis.

The person on the other end of line assured Davis that he’d get a great deal if paid using gift cards. Davis purchased nearly $400 in gift cards, then waited for the car to be delivered the next day at noon.

“I sat there, and sat there, and sat there waiting until noon come up,” he said. It came and left. I called him back and said ‘man what happened to my car?’

The man said there was a problem and Davis needed to send more money. He refused and asked for a refund.

“I said I need my money. I’m on a fixed income and I can’t afford to let that kind of money go out. I need my money. He hung up. It hurts because that was money I could’ve used,” Davis said.

“It’s almost impossible to rent a car legitimately these days because there’s a national shortage. scammers are picking up on that,” said Daniel Irwin, public relations director for the Mid-South Better Business Bureau (BBB).

Irwin said their phones have been ringing off the hook with people reporting scams related to all things travel. Irwin puts the reports into the BBB’s scam tracker tool, where you can search what scams are trending in your area.

You can even enter a report yourself.

“The last couple of weeks, we’ve gotten an explosion of scam tracker reports and calls into the BBB,” Irwin said.

Irwin said the BBB has received 42 travel scam reports this year for a total loss of more than 17,000. Last year, the BBB received only nine reports for a loss of $3,800.

“It’s very easy, Irwin said when asked if it’s easy to fall for these scams. “It’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not and the more people research on the internet, the more and more these fake sites pop up.”

One woman looking to apply for TSA precheck Googled it and landed on a fraudulent website, which cost her money.

“She was prompted to pay $140. She did and she never got the services she paid for,” said Irwin.

The woman reported to the BBB she thought she was paying an application fee.

The TSA doesn’t charge an application fee and the $85 the government does require for a background check is paid in person.

The website the woman used is still active.

“Turns out this exact situation has happened to more than 20 people on this exact site nationwide. This is one of those scam sites,” Irwin said.

To avoid falling victim to a travel scam you are urged to:

  • Use a credit card when purchasing anything online or over the phone - never a gift card.
  • Make sure you’re using a reputable or official government website, which will end in .gov. you can always search the website and look for reviews as well.
  • Finally, if there is pressure for you to pay now or the deal will end - don’t take the chance.

Davis said he’s learned these valuable lessons and more.

“The funny part about it was that something deep inside me told me don’t do it, but it was a deal so convincing that I said well, okay,” Davis said.

Davis said he did see his son for his birthday but a friend drove him. He’ll never try to rent a car again.

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