From fake free trips to fake rental homes, here are some of the most common online threats you should be aware of before and during your trip
As the mercury rises and we look forward to vacationing on a sunnier incline, it is also time to keep an eye on internet fraud and cyberthreats. Travel scams are one of the biggest money earners for cyber criminals. In 2022 alone, more than 62,400 casualty reports were filed US Federal Trade Commission (FTC). With an average loss of $1,259 per victim, a total of US$104 million was unknowingly handed over to fraudsters that year. And those are just reported cases.
Experts believe that when the cost of living crisis bites, bargain-hunting travelers will be more vulnerable to these scams. Let’s check out some of the top scams to watch out for this summer holiday season.
8 common threats prey on tourists
New report from Fraud reporting center Action Fraud warns that more than £15m has been lost in the last financial year in the UK alone, an increase of 41% year over year.
According to the UK travel agency trade association ABTA, the most common types of vacation booking scams involve accommodation, airline tickets, sports and religious travel, and timeshare and vacation clubs. Fraudsters create fake websites, post fake advertisements on websites and social media, and sometimes offer cheaper deals using hacked gift accounts or hijacked cards to pay for them.
Here are some of the most common types of scams and other threats to watch out for:
1) Fake free holidays
Victims are contacted by unsolicited email, phone or SMS claiming they have won a holiday through a prize drawer they never entered. If they do reply, the fraudster will charge a fee to open their ‘free’ vacation, presumably to pay off taxes owed. Of course, there are no prizes and the scammers pocket the cash.
Beware of this SCAM masquerading as Emirates.
The WhatsApp message invites you to click on a link where you can ‘win’ a free holiday with Emirates. This scam also appeared on Facebook.
If you think you have shared personal/financial information with scammers, contact your bank. pic.twitter.com/1Fw0PUE3Gj
— NI Trade Standards (@TSSNI) August 22, 2022
2) Clone site
Phishing email, text and telephone and/or online advertising can also lure victims to visit fake airline, vacation or comparison sites designed to impersonate legitimate identities. Victims are sent fake email confirmations or booking references, meaning many only realize they’ve been conned when they arrive at the check-in desk.
That #ScamwiseNI Partnership brings you the story of a young couple who were swindled out of their money by a bogus vacation website.
Beware of holiday scams! Beware of scams! pic.twitter.com/tTDOUlPubL
— NI Cyber Security Center (@NICyberSC) August 3, 2020
3) Ticket/vacation discounts
Cyber criminals sometimes offer hefty discounts on holidays, flights, hotels and other packages. In this case, the ticket may be legit but the reason for the discount is because it was purchased with a stolen card or hijacked loyalty account. They may be advertised via social media, spam emails or even robocalls. Victims risk losing their stay when the scam is discovered.
4) ‘Assistance’ with international travel documents
Some sites are meant to help victims obtain travel visas, passports, international driving licenses, or other documents. They may masquerade as government websites like those run by US Department of State website. However, they charge exorbitant fees, including for services that are usually free. And the resulting document is most likely fake.
Fraud alert! That @StateDept will NOT contact you directly about your entry for DV-2024. You should use Participant Status Check in https://t.co/XA5VIvD8bS to see if you were selected to participate. If you receive an email, text, call, or mail notification, it’s a scam. pic.twitter.com/PcbBmwydY5
— Travel – Department of State (@TravelGov) May 15, 2023
5) Fake rental house
There is a thriving trade in privately rented vacation homes advertised online. But scammers often enter their own listings on legitimate rental sites or classified ads. This property does not exist, is not for rent, or will be double booked when you show up. Consider booking your rental through specially reputable sites that offer protection against fake listings.
6) Charter flight scam
Fraudsters also use private plane charter packages, often bundled with accommodation, to lure victims. Again, they’ll take the money and run, leaving you high and dry.
7) Wi-Fi threats
The risks don’t end once you’re on the road. If you’re in an airport, cafe or other public space while on the go, resist the urge to log into your banking or other valuable account using free public Wi-Fi – at least unless you’re also using a reputable virtual private network (VPN) service that encrypts your connection and protects you from anyone who might want to steal your private data.
Why is it better to avoid free Wi-Fi? Because it might be a fake hotspot created by cyber criminals who want to eavesdrop on your web browsing sessions to steal passwords and personal/financial data. Even if the hotspot is legitimate, hackers may be lurking on the same network to spy on your online activity. Or they might hack the network to distribute malware.
8) Juice dispensing
Travelers should also be aware of the threat of USB charging, also known as “juice jacking”. Here, criminals usually load malware onto publicly available charging stations or cables left plugged into the stations. Using them will result in the victim’s device being compromised with malware designed to hijack devices and/or steal data and passwords.
How to stay safe this holiday season
There’s a lot you can do to avoid the above scenario. Remember the following:
- Do your research: check online for travel companies, hotels, rentals, and travel agents to see if anyone else has been conned.
- Never reply to unsolicited communications. If you want to follow up on an ad, contact the organization directly, and never go through the contact details in an email/text/advertisement.
- Do not pay by wire transfers, gift cards, crypto or money apps like Cash App as these offer no protection for the buyer. Once the money is gone, it’s gone.
- Check the URL of any site you visit to make sure there aren’t any typos in it indicating a fake site.
- Double check the seller protected by the ATOLto reduce the risk of loss from airline tickets.
- Be warned: if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
- Don’t visit dark web sites offering heavily discounted vacations and tickets.
- Don’t use public Wi-Fi without a virtual private network (VPN) and avoid using public charging stations on the street.
Summer is the most beautiful time of the year for tourists. But remember it can also be an advantage for fraudsters and cyber criminals. Stay safe online, and have a great vacation!