Posted: September 23, 2014

Staying on Guard Against Travel Scams
Protect against travel scams.

"You've won a free vacation!" "All-Inclusive Hotel Package." These are some of the more obvious travel scams out there – check your mail, there's probably a postcard waiting for you. But more clever, money-thwarting schemes lurk to ensnare travelers in their traps too.

Harlan Platt, a professor of finance at Northeastern University, says that for the "free" vacations ploy, the catch is that you have to stay at a time-share facility and agree to be inundated with time-share presentations to buy into the developments. Sticking to airport hotels will certainly help avoid this headache. 

Whether looking into business travel or leisure vacations, it's crucial to carefully read the fine print. Most of the time the text will reveal an empty offer, but other times the trickery of a deal might not become apparent until your try to redeem a benefit.

Brenda Galindo, a retiree who lives in Winterville, North Carolina, used to fly regularly with Continental Airlines. At the time, the company made her a promise that the frequent flier miles she'd earned from her business travel wouldn't expire. Yet after Continental merged with United Airlines a few years ago, the new airline altered the rules of its loyalty program without telling her, she explained to USA Today.

When she logged on to United.com, she found that her 178,058 miles had vanished. The airline said that because she had stopped flying, the 18 months of inactivity on her account led her miles to expire. While it's hard to predict this type of issue, staying up-to-date on travel news and again, reading the fine print can act as a leg-up. If that doesn't cut it, you could reach out to regulators like the Transportation Department or Federal Trade Commission to voice your concern. 

Credit Card Shams

Another scam, though not particularly high-tech, aims at getting credit card information. In this fraud, the thief calls the hotel and asks to be put through to a random room number. When the guest picks up, the scammer pretends to be from the front desk needing credit card information because there's a problem with the original card. 

As a good rule of thumb, travelers should never give credit card information over the phone when at a hotel. 

A variant of the imposter trick, some criminals will slip pizza menus under hotel room doors. A hungry guest will order food and pay with a credit card but the pizza never arrives. If you find a restaurant menu under the door, think twice before ordering from it. Validate the solicitation with the hotel staff first.

App Takes 'Thiefies' for Cell Phone Protection

On the road, the biggest risks travelers face is the theft of a cell phone or tablet. Phones are a reservoir for not only pictures and apps, but a lot of personal and financial information as well, making them a scary target to lose. 

"[Your phone] can often be the story of your life, and even your business, so it's a top target for thieves," Neal O'Farrell, executive director of The Identity Theft Council, told Fox Business.

O'Farrell recommends setting up device passwords and programming a low number of login attempts. To minimize risk, be sure to install one of the many free apps that enable the user to lock the phone, locate it and erase the data. There's even an app called Lookout that takes a photo of the thief – a theftie, a play on the word selfie, – which is triggered when a robber enters a password, turns the device off or takes out the SIM card. The app then automatically emails the picture and phone's location to its registered owner. 

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