After a year without vacations, some people are a little rusty at booking travel, and scammers are taking full advantage. The Better Business Bureau has reported a spike in the number of people being scammed by fully functional, legit-looking travel booking sites that are actually fake — honey traps looking to steal your money and personal information. Here’s what to look for so you can avoid them.
How the scam works
While doing an online search for cheap flights or a hotel, you come across an unusually cheap deal. You book the flight or hotel using a credit card, either on the site directly or by calling a customer support line, and receive a confirmation email that doesn’t actually include the ticket or reservation you just booked. In some versions of this scam, you’ll then receive a call from a company “representative” who will try to charge you additional fees to finalise the booking. Later, when you contact the airline or hotel, they’ll have no record of the transaction.
Fake travel sites are increasingly sophisticated
Fake booking sites have been around for years, but they’ve become increasingly slicker and more functional, to the point they don’t look all that different from legitimate low-budget travel sites with second-rate design. They also have functional search features, allowing you to pick a city, set departure and arrival dates, and choose from what will look to be bargain-basement deals via a functional calendar view. The search fields often even have auto-complete capabilities, suggesting possible destinations as you type.
However, despite the polished veneer, these sites tend to be hastily built and poorly maintained, so you can still spot a fake if you know what to look for. One confirmed scam site I checked out appeared impressively legit at first, a deeper investigation revealed multiple red flags:
- Some destinations are listed as regions or states, not cities (“Alabama”), while the occasional airline company name (“Westjet”) is misspelled.
- There are logos for VISA, Discover, and Mastercard, but the images are low-res, outdated designs.
- A “DMCA” security shield is prominently displayed — but DMCA is related to copyright claims, not internet security, which makes no sense on the landing page of a travel-booking site.
- There’s a functional FAQ page, but the copy is full of typos and doesn’t quite make sense — as if it was written to be seen, not actually read.
How to avoid fake booking sites
The BBB recommends you research any unfamiliar site before entering your personal information to make sure it’s legitimate (you can start by checking Smartraveller). Double-check URLS before entering credit card information (you should see “https://” with a padlock icon next to it in your address bar), and be wary of cheap-looking sites in general.
If you’ve been a victim of an airline ticket or other travel scam, report your experience at Scamwatch Australia.