The Red Flags to Watch Out For When Booking Travel

Travel booking scams

Last year, TikTok creator Alix Earle was travelling through Europe with her friends when she realised the villa they’d booked in Positano, Italy through Booking.com didn’t exist. A rep for the booking platform told Business Insider after the fact the scam didn’t occur on its site.

“Upon investigation, we can now confirm that this fake villa listing was not booked via Booking.com, but instead found on a fake copycat website,” the statement read.

Travel booking scams are not new but the problem appears to have worsened, with Australia’s consumer rights watchdog seeing a sharp rise in scam reports mentioning Booking.com in 2023, according to ABC News. This led to Australians losing more than $337,000.

@alixearle THIS IS NOT REAL LIFE. Omg thank you @airbnb for coming to the rescue ?? #positano #airbnb #italy #girlstrip ♬ original sound – Alix Earle

Queensland resident Robyn had told the publication she received a message through Booking.com in January 2023 that appeared to be from a hotel in Istanbul, Turkey, where she had an upcoming booking. The message said that the booking would be cancelled if she didn’t confirm her details. She clicked a link in the message, which took her to a site that appeared to be Booking.com as it showed details of her trip and its costs.

“It was very legitimate looking,” she told ABC. “It was so good.”

A Booking.com rep told The Latch new measures and alerts had been put in place to update and protect its customers, as well as its accommodation partners.

“If a Booking.com customer ever has any concerns about a payment message, we encourage them to first carefully check the payment policy details outlined on the property listing page and in their booking confirmation,” the rep said.

“Customers are also encouraged to report any suspicious messages to us via our customer service team, or by clicking on ‘report an issue’, which is included for instance in the chat function.”

As a rule, though, no legitimate transaction will ever require a customer to share sensitive information like credit card details via email, chat messages, text messages, including WhatsApp or over the phone.

Ahead, reps for Booking.com and Expedia share how to stay safe when booking rooms, flights and car hires through their platforms.

Think Twice Before You Click

“Be mindful of clicking on suspicious links as they can lead to fake sites, with the real destination of a link found by hovering a mouse over the link or, on a mobile phone, by tapping and holding the link,” says the Booking.com rep.

Expedia warns customers against suspicious links, too, saying, generally, you should always exercise caution when opening files or visiting links sent to you by people you don’t know.

“Check links to make sure the company spelling is correct and leads you to a legitimate website,” says Expedia Group’s travel expert Sarah King.

Watch Out For the Method of Communication

“Expedia will never reach out to a traveller via WhatsApp or SMS message to ask for sensitive information such as login credentials,” says King. “So always be cautious when receiving unexpected emails or texts requesting this type of information, especially when the communication conveys a sense of urgency.

The Booking.com rep also says a sense of urgency is usually key to spotting a scam booking email or message. “Also, spelling errors or grammatical mistakes,” she says. “Do not click on anything that looks poorly worded.”

Don’t Fall For These Specific Scams

King says one of the most common travel booking scams she’s seen is scammers using ‘spoofing’ technology to make phone numbers look legitimate and then claiming a customer has won a prize from Expedia, like cash, trips or credits for future travel.

“In exchange, the very convincing scammers will ask for personal information, including name, address and payment information,” she says.

Another common scam is phishing, where a scammer sends an email asking for personal information while tricking the recipient into clicking a link, opening an attachment or directly providing sensitive information.

“The emails can be quite convincing as they appear to come from established businesses or organisations, and sometimes even link to legitimate-looking websites,” King says. “Always confirm the sender’s email address is legitimate.”

Finally, fraudsters will buy fake ads with illegitimate contact information for well-known companies to pose as agents. They’ll target people Googling for online support numbers. The imposters will request gift cards in exchange for services like a trip refund or flight change.

“They may even use an itinerary look-up tool using information gathered from unaware victims to view real trip details to gain trust,” says King.

If You’re Ever Unsure, Contact the Platform Directly

Finally, both reps for the platforms say, if you’re ever unsure about communication on a booking, contact them directly. Expedia has several self-service tools to help travellers easily change or cancel trips, redeem credits or check on the status of a refund – without having to speak with an agent. Though, if you do want to chat someone, that’s available too.

“Expedia’s virtual agent is available 24/7, which also lets you change or cancel trips, check trip status and more quickly, without having to call in,” King says. “For more support, select ‘Chat now’ and request to connect with one of Expedia’s agents.”

The Booking.com rep encourages customers to report any suspicious messages to the platform via its customer service team or by clicking ‘report an issue’, which you’ll find in the chat function.

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