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Free Vacation Phone Scams: Common Vacation Scams & 3 Ways to Identify Phony Vacation Offers



29 Jan 2016

Imagine that after another long, hard day at the office, your phone rings - and you answer to hear a voice on the other line excitedly announce you've won a free vacation package.

Vacation Getaway

For a moment, you imagine yourself enjoying a well-deserved dream vacation on a sunny beach with a daiquiri in hand or on an excitement-filled Disney trip bonding with your kids or grandkids. A getaway is just what you need to recharge your batteries, the offer seems too good to be true.

Trust your instincts. It is.

Free vacation travel scams always have a catch, with the ultimate goal of conning you out of money. But the offers often appear legitimate - so make sure you know how to spot the signs of a scam.

"Congratulations - You've Won!"

Entering contests and raffles is fun, especially if you win. Winners receive a phone call, email, or letter with the contest's details and information about the prize. However, a more common thing these days involves receiving a robocall with a big announcement. 

The caller says you’ve won a free vacation package, but offers little information. You don’t remember entering a contest though. The catch comes when the caller says you need to verify your information by supplying credit card numbers, bank account information, social security number and/or birth date. Never give that information to anyone over the phone. If someone asks you for this information, assume it’s a scam.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) created a task force to combat these scams and the enormous amount of robocalls made daily. 

Top Vacation Scam Tactics

What often starts as a “free” vacation package may turn into something else – timeshare offers, vacation clubs, travel packages, vouchers, and more. In the end, they are all the same – the scam artists get rich, and you get nothing.

"Free" Vacation Scams

When a travel agency or website advertises a “free” vacation, it doesn’t mean it’s totally without costs. The prize rarely includes add-on fees for transportation costs, port charges, taxes, tips, and other additional fees.

Vacation Rental Cons

Vacation rentals make sense, particularly when traveling with family or a group of people. You get the convenience of a house or apartment without paying the hefty fees of a hotel. Scammers count on people booking places they won’t see until they arrive. This allows them to advertise rentals that don’t exist, aren’t in usable condition, or that they don’t own. 

The “owner” often creates a sense of urgency to receive payment without giving you time to check out the property. Lack of information or proof of ownership is a red flag that the offer may not be real. Do your homework before giving out information or hard-earned cash. If you’ve never been to the area, consider using a reputable company like VRBO, Airbnb, or, that vets owners and renters. Always be sure to read the reviews of fellow travellers. Be wary of ads for rentals on Craigslist and similar sites.

Third-Party Booking Websites

The Better Business Bureau receives many complaints about third-party travel company websites offering discounts on airfare, hotels, and unpublished travel offers. In the summer of 2019, BBB Scam Tracker received numerous reports of scam artists posing as online airline ticket brokers. The brokers will book the ticket and charge your credit card. The reservation gets canceled, but the broker keeps your fee. 

After the transaction, the broker calls to verify your information, including name, address, and payment information – something a legitimate travel company would not do. Working with a travel agent prevents scams and ensures that you get what you pay for.

Hotel Reception Phone Scams

People rarely question when a hotel asks for specific information. We hand over our personal information, debit card, and credit card numbers. However, scammers find ways to take advantage of this trust. Some common hotel reception phone scams include fake internet access and food delivery services:

  • Fake internet access. Surprisingly, not all hotels offer free Wi-Fi. A scammer poses as a staff member at the hotel and calls your room. They offer to arrange for free or upgraded internet access. The scammer steals your credit card information, and no service is provided.
  • Food delivery service. A scammer calls your room offering room service. They ask for you credit card information in order to charge the service to your room. Your credit card is charged, but the food never arrives.
  • Computer issues. A scammer calls your hotel room and informs you that they've had an issue with their computer system. Your card information wasn't recorded earlier upon your check-in. The caller asks if you could give them your card information again. This allows the caller to steal your credit card information. 

With all of these variations the scammers take advantage of the fact that their victims are on vacation and aren't paying attention to their credit card activity until it's too late. 

Look Out for These Tell-Tale Tactics

Vacation scam variations typically start the same way. Keep an eye out for these red flags. 

1. Request for upfront fees.

Most commonly, you'll have to pay "nominal" upfront fees to be eligible to claim your free vacation - such as a travel club membership, reservation deposit, or taxes and fees. The upfront fee fraud is the easiest scam tactic to spot, don't expect to hear anything more about your supposed vacation after paying up hundreds of dollars. The caller insists on being paid via prepaid card, gift card or wire transfer.

2. Requirement to attend a live presentation.

Another scam caller approach is to require you to attend a live presentation to claim your prize. A speaker will aggressively pitch a group of potential victims to buy into a vacation club or timeshare package. But the package is likely nonexistent or will purposely have few available dates and costly hidden fees.

If you decline the scam membership and pursue the initial free vacation offer for attending the presentation, you'll find the trip is nonexistent as well - receiving fraudulent vouchers, if anything.

3. Provision of substandard vacation.

In rare instances, people who opt into a free vacation scheme do receive a trip. However, if you claim it, you'll lose rather than win - sent to substandard accommodations worth less than the upfront "fees" scammers had you pay out to qualify for the trip.

What to Do If You Receive a Phony Vacation Offer

It's important to know that you can't win a legitimate contest you've never entered. So if you receive a call with a free vacation offer - hang up

Do not give out financial information to any caller requesting upfront fees to claim a prize. Do not press a number to be removed from the scammer's call list. This only confirms that your phone number works, leading to persistent call attempts.

How to Report a Vacation Scam

Victims of scams or suspected scams should file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. The website contains valuable information to educate consumers and how to file a claim if you’ve been scammed. Report phone scams immediately to the FTC and your state's Attorney General. Include as much information as possible, including the time and date of the call, name of the caller, company name, and any other details that seem important. If the scam is local, report it to the police.

You can also report the scammer's phone number by downloading our iPhone phone number lookup app and leaving your feedback. If you don't have an iPhone, you can still search for unknown phone numbers and leave your feedback with our phone number tracer available on our site.

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