October 2014: SCAMwatch is warning would-be travelers to watch out for travel scams as scammers seek to take advantage of those looking for a hard-earned break.
Now is the time of year when many Australians start to turn their minds to their next big holiday. Unfortunately, scammers are ready to pack their bags too – with your money. Just searching for a holiday or responding to a survey online can alert scammers that you are in the market for a holiday, and they won't hesitate to approach you with holiday prizes or offers that always turn out to be too good to be true.
Scammers often initially approach people with claims that they have won a prize such as travel vouchers, only to then try and lure them into signing up for a holiday deal. These deals may seem great – heavily discounted holiday accommodation and airfares to destinations popular with Australians such as Thailand, Bali or our neighbouring Pacific Islands. Other scams offer holidays to Florida or the Bahamas with tickets to theme parks or cruises at greatly discounted rates. However, in reality the package or the prize doesn't exist, and victims are left out of pocket and stranded overseas with no accommodation.
Watch out - scammers may also claim to be affiliated with well-known and reputable businesses to try and convince you that they're the real deal. Sometimes the scammers will provide the tickets and itinerary but when it comes time to travel the tickets are useless and the business cannot be contacted. If you are considering buying a holiday package through a third party, you should contact the accommodation provider directly to verify the deal using contact details sourced independently.
If you come across an amazing holiday package or 'win' a holiday out of the blue, make sure it's the real deal. Don't let scammers ruin your hard-earned break – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
How this scam works
- You are searching for a holiday online and come across an amazing package that you decide to sign up for. Shortly afterwards, you receive a notification out of the blue by phone, text, email or post claiming that you have won a prize comprised of travel vouchers, often worth $2000 or $3000.
- Alternatively, you participate in an online survey and are subsequently notified that you have won a holiday or vouchers.
- When you go to claim your prize, you are told that you first need to buy more travel vouchers. However, the person you are talking to or corresponding with presents you with an amazing offer for a heavily discounted accommodation or holiday package. These packages are typically for destinations popular with Australians such as Thailand, Bali or the Pacific Islands, and can be used any time over the next 12 to 18 months. Other scams offer holidays to Florida or the Bahamas with tickets to theme parks or cruises at greatly discounted rates.
- If you decide to take up this offer, you will be asked to provide your credit card and licence details before they can send you the prize.
- If you hand over your details, the scammer will quickly use these to take money from your account. They may also use your personal details to commit identity theft.
- The promised prize or vouchers will either never arrive, or if they do, will be dishonoured when you try to redeem them.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is: Many scams will promote "free", "complimentary" and "discounted" deals that may sound so appealing that they are hard to resist. Find out if the offer is the real deal – call the holiday accommodation provider directly, research the 'business' that you're dealing with, and search online for reviews.
- Know who you're dealing with: If you have doubts about the identity of any caller who claims to represent a business, organisation or government department, contact the body directly. Don't rely on contact details provided by the person – find them through an independent source such as a phone book or online search.
- Book through an accredited agent: If you are looking to go on a holiday, you can use a travel agent to make sure you get legitimate accommodation. If using a travel agent, find out if they are accredited through the Australian Federation of Travel Agents' ATAS scheme. ATAS-accredited agents must abide by a code of conduct and have dispute resolution procedures in place.
- The way you pay matters: Different means of payment offer different protections. Be wary of requests for cheques, bank or wire transfers when booking travel. If booking online, choose secure payment methods. If you pay with a credit card, you may be able to seek a chargeback if you don't get what you pay for.
- If you think you've been scammed, report it: If you think you have provided your account details to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.
You can report scams to the ACCC via the SCAMwatch report a scam page or by calling 1300 795 995.
In April the ACCC issued a SCAMwatch alert on a travel scam where scammers posing as Qantas staff claiming that they've won a credit towards their next holiday: Automated scam calls claiming to be from Qantas with bogus holiday win.
Stay one step ahead of scammers – follow @SCAMwatch_gov on Twitter or visit http://twitter.com/SCAMwatch_gov.
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