BBB Warns Travelers About Third-Party Hotel Booking Scams
Every day, deceptive websites, online ads and search engines mislead consumers into believing they are booking directly with a hotel website or call center, when in fact they have no relation. A survey commissioned in 2018 by the American Hotel and Lodge Association (AHLA) found 23 percent of consumers reported being misled by third-party travel resellers over the phone or online. That translated to 28.5 million hotel stays and over $5.2 billion in fraudulent hotel booking transactions, which caused extra fees, incorrect accommodations and even lost reservations. The AHLA has long partnered with Better Business Bureau (BBB) to raise awareness about hotel booking scams in an effort to protect consumers. According to BBB, certain types of consumers are at greater risk for these scams, e.g. travelers ages 55 and up and members of the military. According to BBB Scam Tracker, the BBB serving Pacific Southwest has received 169 travel and hotel booking complaints, so far in 2019, with travel and vacation scams costing the average victim approximately $847.
Many hotel booking scams are set up so consumers don’t even know they have been tricked. Most of the time, it starts with a hotel scam website being created and promoted to show up in internet searches right alongside legitimate hotel websites and third-party booking sites.
From there, the fraud committed can take on several different forms. The fraudulent website may steal the victim’s money outright, never making a reservation on their behalf or they might charge the consumer an inflated rate the consumer shouldn’t be required to pay. Consumers likely won’t find out they’ve been scammed until they arrive at the hotel with a confirmation that either isn’t in the system or is for a different room. The AHLA states, “Some 55 million online hotel bookings are affected by fraudulent websites and call centers posing as hotel websites.” “These rogue sites trick consumers by mirroring the look and feel of the actual hotel website — using copyrighted images, trademarked logos and many times, even similar URLs to take consumers for a ride,” comments Michael Sedio, COO and General Counsel at BBB Pacific SouthWest. The BBB suggests these tips to ensure travel plans are not ruined by thieves. Book directly with the source. Before booking a hotel online, customers should make sure they are booking on the hotel’s website. While a lookalike site may have the hotel’s name in their URL, double check the website address leads you to the legitimate hotel site and not a third-party site trying to take over the hotel’s identity. When booking, go to the travel company’s or hotel chain’s website directly.
For example, if a traveller is booking the Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik Hotel in Croatia, they should go to Hilton.com and book the reservation on the actual hotel website. Search engine results for specific inquiries may present scam sites designed to steal money from consumers.
Use reputable third-party websites. It is common to use third-party websites like Expedia, Travelocity and Priceline. Legitimate hotel booking sites can save money and headaches. However, travelers should be aware of third-party sites that offer suspiciously cheap rates for rooms but in actuality steal their money and disappear. BBB encourages consumers to be cautious of unfamiliar websites or brands, even if they look legitimate. Take the extra step to check the company’s business profile on bbb.org before you book.
Showing up without a reservation might be the least of the victim’s concern, in a situation such as this — the traveler’s identity being stolen or credit card being used are bigger concerns. In most cases, there is little to no recourse. However, if you someone has been a victim of a third-party travel scam, BBB advises to cancel the credit card, monitor the credit score and report the scam to BBB Scam Tracker.