Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Common Travel Scams

(an updated version of an ezine article I published):

If you are a regular reader of travel forums you will know that many people fall victim to travel scams. With some of these con-tricks you not only run the risk of not getting what you've paid for, but may also end up having your details sold on to other unscrupulous companies in what the industry term 'sucker lists' that are used for spam emails and telemarketing.

Some of the later scams listed below are targetted at UK citizens, however similar tricks affect travellers of all nationalities.

The pay your bill in your home currency scam
When paying by credit or debit card whilst abroad you may be asked if you would like to pay in pounds. This makes more money for the hotel, restaurant etc. If you do agree a hefty exchange rate over which you have no control will be applied to your card.

TIP 1: if you do use a card it is normally best to pay in the local currency (normally Visa and Mastercard provide the best exchange rate you can get)

The Compensation emailThese emails claim to come from an official source, state you may be entitled to compensation and request personal details. Their purpose is to obtain information for credit card and bank account fraud or identity theft.

An example in July 2010 was one falsely claiming to be from the UK Civil Aviation Authority asking passengers who had their holidays disrupted by volcanic ash, for personal information including passport details.

TIP 2: never respond to emails and provide personal information.

The Job Offer and Work Permit Fraud
Often targeted at active job searchers by email. Offers a lucrative job abroad but requires a payment for them arrange the work permit. See this U.S. advisory for more information.

The Fake Ticket or Travel Site
Fly-by-night sites that take your money for Disney Tickets, Concerts, Festivals, and package holidays are common all over the world. This page helps you check for warning signs of a web-site's trustworthieness.

EHIC Website Scam
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) enables those eligable to get free or reduced cost medical treatment within the European Economic Area. As a British Citizen, resident in the UK, you can order one for free. Do not pay for your EHIC.

Websites listed by Google offer an online service to get your EHIC in 7 days. All they do (if you're lucky) is supposedly "check" and forward your information to the Government site and charge you a fee. They cannot provide a faster service than ordering online through the official Government website.

TIP 3: for information on ordering your EHIC for free see this UK Government page.

TIP 4: UK Government websites providing official information on travel documents such as passport, International Driving Permit and EHIC always end with "gov.uk".
Tourist Visa/ESTA Website Scams
A visa is required to enter many countries countries, or, in the case of the US, British and certain other nationalities can apply for an ESTA to enter under the visa waiver program.

The Visa application process is quite simple for most tourists; but there are some countries where application can be complex for an independent traveller, and paying for services may be appropriate. However, many websites offering tourist visa/ESTA services do no more than provide information available on official sites or merely "forward" your application. Some of these even warn you to look out for fraudulent sites!

The ESTA was free until 8 Sep 2010, but the first page of  a Google search for ESTA was mainly made up of companies charging for it including the top link ($45).  The US Gov have now introduced a charge of $14 for it. Since these companies are offering a service of dubious benefit it is reasonable to assume that even some of those operating within the law may sell your email and address details on. Others may not do anything but take your money and sell on all your details including Credit Card number.

The introduction of  a fee for ESTA registration ironically has a benefit - it has reduced the number of  "scam" sites operating within the law as they now need a processing system that will forward $14 of your payment to the US Govt! .
TIP 5: Use the official ESTA registration site.

TIP 6: Investigate visa arrangements on the appropriate Foreign Embassy website before parting with any money. A list of all foreign Embassies and High Commissions located in the UK can be found via this Embassy Directory.

TIP 7: Check the relevant official sites first e.g. US Government sites end in ".gov" and Australian ".gov.au".

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