There’s a scam currently doing the rounds for cheap online tickets and hotels. It starts with a app telling you an airline is selling tickets for a steal. A really ridiculous price like R3.
I got one such message this week, read it and deleted immediately because I’ve received one before. What is of concern is the number of people who fall for these things. They forward the message to all their contacts, log on and invite viruses into their computers, or lose their life’s savings on a non-existent trip.
Facebook travel agents are another scam. Many agents are now advertising on Facebook for trips at ridiculous prices. You are required to pay the full amount to secure your booking. The terms and conditions state that you may not transfer or cancel the booking.
This is obviously so you can’t ask for your money back. People are so desperate for travel bargains that they will pay without verifying the source – and then find that the trip is fictitious. The frightening thing about booking online is that you can pay for a flight and find out that your tickets don’t even exist.
But there are preventative measures one can take to avoid scams. In South Africa there’s a forum called the Association of Southern African Travel Agents (Asata); this is a group that has a database of registered travel agencies, travel advisors, reservations and ticketing consultants.
They state on the website that 95% of registered agencies in South Africa are on their database. The group also has an app that you can download to verify the legitimacy of the travel agency you’re considering making a booking with.
There are other ways of verifying your booking. You could phone the hotel or airline immediately after you’ve made a booking and confirm that payment has been made. Ask for a receipt to be sent to you. Some banks will reverse fraudulent banking transactions. It’s also advisable to keep a folder with copies of all your transactions and carry it with you on your trip.
Reputable sites such as Booking.com, or Trip Advisor, will have the names of reliable hotels and flights that aren’t scams. Website Hellopeter.com is another way to check where you’ll be going. The site has many reports written about travel scams or hotels and areas you should never visit.
For international trips, you can go to the Iata.org site. It has a customer portal which allows you to email and interact with a consultant who will assist with questions about international agencies. For trips in the US, check if the agency has a membership with the United States Tour Operators Association or the American Society of Travel Agencies.
You have to be a detective when it comes to paying for a trip, so search for the hotel and destination online, and ask people who have travelled there. Or go to a trusted agency and ask for advice. With Facebook agents, verify how long the agency has been running.
It’s key to have your guard up when parting with money. Travel deals that are too good to be true are just that.