Just as you might prepare for traveling by taking a Covid test, being prepared for changes and adjustments when traveling is a must in 2021. The number of people traveling has been increasing, thanks to more vaccine availability and fewer coronavirus cases. But as travel increases, so does the number of new travel scams.
While there may be a bit of travel anxiety still lingering, knowing what to watch out for can help make your next trip a little easier. With so many changes and guidelines still in place for some destinations, the following scams might even catch a seasoned traveler off guard. So here are a few things to note before your next trip.
Fake rideshare or taxi drivers.
When departing the airport (bus terminals and train stations may also be susceptible), you may encounter people lingering outside, claiming to be rideshare or taxi drivers. This illegal solicitation is dangerous for several reasons, including the lack of a safety net and accountability. While this is more common abroad, there have been incidents in the United States.
I recently encountered several men with the word "UBER" displayed prominently on their cellphones when I left JFK airport in New York City. An older woman was about to ask for a ride when I warned her about the fake driver. I recommend using the taxi rank or doing a quick search on the app yourself and ordering a car. You can also ask a nearby hotel if it will call a car for you.
While this scam is quite old, it is still something to be aware of, especially when reliance on technology is high. Be careful when using open, free, or public WiFi connections, as hackers may be watching and collecting your usage and data. If you must visit a private site such as your bank's website, use a mobile hotspot or VPN.
Fake websites, third-party sites, and too good to be true "deals."
You may be surprised at the lengths scammers are going through to pull off their cons. There have been reports of fake websites popping up and people getting scammed. Some of the fake websites include:
- Fake rental car
- Fake airline
- Fake hotel
- Fake Covid tests to travel
- Fake food menus (traveler places an order for food and pays over the phone or online, but the food is never delivered)
- Fake government sites, including Global Entry and TSA PreCheck
Scammers have been setting up fake websites, fake phone numbers, fake reservation agents, and even fake advertisements that pop up when users search online for things such as "cheap rental car" or something similar.
It's also important to be careful with websites asking for vaccine information. If a vaccine passport is required abroad or a Covid test, check official government websites for further details. Government sites for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, as well as any U.S. embassy or CDC sites, will end in ".gov."
Many websites and phone numbers seem legitimate, making it easy for unsuspecting readers and occasional travelers to fall for the scam. Additionally, double-check any pop-ups that appear, especially when entering financial information. Also, be careful of any calls or texts claiming to be agents seeking to confirm your reservations or claiming to be from the front desk.
Always go with trusted names when using third-party sites. Additionally, be sure the website URL is using HTTPS connection security. If the website is unfamiliar, search the web and Better Business Bureau for legitimacy.
It's a good idea to search addresses or areas on Google Maps to be sure they are accurate and factual. Also, take photos of any rental cars before leaving the lot and note any damages. You should also take pictures of your accommodation after checking in, especially if you use a houseshare like AirBnB.
Try to pay with a credit card when traveling, as they usually have more protection. Additionally, if an unfamiliar travel site asks for payment via gift card, debit card, wire transfer, cryptocurrency, or something similar, it is likely not on the up and up. Typos on sites and a lack of social media presence are usually signs of an illegitimate company.
Avoid sites, accommodations, drivers, etc., that do not have any reviews. If anything looks too good to be true, it probably is. While there have been some fantastic travel deals during the pandemic, it's always a good idea to double-check the sources and legitimacy of websites.