As the weather heats up, so does the travel industry.
While inflation and other economic factors could make it more difficult to book that dream trip this year, there are ways to vacation on a budget. But as you look for the best deals to avoid your wallet being stretched too thin, it’s vital to beware of “steals.”
Travel scams, along with other fraudulent schemes, have continued to rise in recent years making it all the more critical to take steps to protect yourself and your bank account when making purchases.
Here are some tips to help book your ideal vacation in a safe and secure manner.
Research, Research, Research
Doing your research is crucial before booking any vacation, and this goes beyond just looking into the fun activities you want to partake in during your trip.
Once you’ve settled on your destination, it’s time to figure out where you will stay and how you will get there. Make sure you conduct proper due diligence of any website you plan to book through to ensure its legitimacy before providing any personal or financial information.
Scammers have been known to spoof real rental properties on booking websites and apps like Airbnb and Vrbo. Before booking with any host, check the reviews closely. If the host has no reviews or the reviews seem a bit “spammy” (i.e., the same review posted frequently), this is a red flag.
If you’re still unsure if a rental listing is legitimate, reverse image search the photos from the listing on Google to see if the pictures are used elsewhere like a stock image website or even the legitimate host’s listing.
Whether you’re booking a hotel or rental property, flights, rental car, or an excursion, it is critical to read the fine print to ensure you know the cancellation and refund policies as well as any fees that may be assessed to prevent losing your hard-earned money.
Be Alert for Phishing and Spoofing
Phishing scams through email and text as well as spoofing of legitimate phone numbers and websites continue to be common tactics of fraudsters looking to steal your information.
Avoid clicking links in any unsolicited emails or texts and use caution when clicking on ads found on social media or other websites to prevent viruses and malware from infiltrating your devices. If a deal in an ad seems too good to be true, it likely is. It is important to be vigilant and look for red flags on websites, such as misspellings or logos and company colors looking off, before providing your personal or financial information.
Before traveling you will also want to ensure any devices you’re bringing with you are secure. Make sure your software is updated, your device is password protected and encrypted. Turning on the “Find My” feature on iPhones and Androids is also a good proactive step to take to help locate missing or stolen devices.
Just as important is ensuring you use caution when connecting to public Wi-Fi on your trip, as many of these networks are unencrypted, leaving your information vulnerable. Consider using your device’s data plan instead or installing a reputable virtual private network (VPN) that offers encryption for added security.
Be Cautious of Payment Methods
Another common red flag for travel scams is when your host or booking company asks for payment through a website or app other than the one you’ve booked through. Many scammers will offer “discounts” to lure you into sending payment via apps such as Venmo and CashApp.
It is important to only provide payment through the reputable sites you’ve booked through, and where possible, make those payments via debit or credit card so you can dispute fraudulent charges.
While it may seem like a lot, doing the proper research and remaining vigilant of the latest scams can help you have a safe vacation that will leave you with memories that last for a lifetime.
Robert Eastwood is senior vice president, chief information security officer at WSFS Bank. He has more than 24 years of experience in the information security field, including nearly 20 years at WSFS, most recently as vice president, information security officer, where he developed and executed a multi-year strategic plan for information security. He also holds a number of professional certifications and memberships in the information services, IT and financial services fields.