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March 29, 2023 Security

How To Avoid Vacation Scams

We dream of luxurious vacation getaways, and suddenly there’s a free offer in your email! Unfortunately, vacation scams have reached your inbox.

Here’s what you need to know about free vacation scams and how to protect yourself from falling victim.

How Vacation Scams Play Out

In a free vacation scam, a target will receive a letter, email, or text message informing them that they’ve just won a sweepstakes for a free luxury vacation. They’ll be asked to pay a small fee or tax to help process the prize.

Alternatively, they may be asked to share their credit card information before claiming the prize. Sadly, after paying the fee, they’ll never hear from the sweepstakes company again.

In another variation of this scam, the target is asked to attend a “short” meeting before they can claim their prize. This turns out to be a prolonged and overt sales pitch for a time-share purchase or travel-club membership.

There may be vouchers for the promised vacation at the end of the class, but they can only be used for specific dates that may not work for the target and require all sorts of additional fees before the “free” vacation can be redeemed.

Also, if the victim signs up for what the scammer is selling, they’ll be charged hefty membership fees with few and/or hard-to-access benefits.

When they try to cancel this nightmare membership, they’ll find a tangle of rules and regulations and may find themselves stuck paying a monthly fee for a full year or more.

Vacation Scam Red Flags

Look out for these red flags to help you spot a possible vacation scam:

  • You’ve won a sweepstakes you know you’ve never entered.
  • Asked to pay a fee or tax before a prize you won can be processed.
  • Pressured to sign up for a time-share purchase or travel club membership.
  • Told a free vacation offer with a club membership purchase is a one-time-only deal and that they must act quickly to avoid missing out.
  • Asked to share your credit card information to claim a free vacation you’ve allegedly won.

Protect Yourself From Vacation Scams

Follow these tips to keep yourself safe from vacation scams:

  • Never share personal information with an unverified contact.
  • Never agree to pay a “processing fee” or “tax” to claim a prize.
  • If a caller insists on payment via gift card or wire transfer, hang up.
  • Always read the fine print and do careful research before you sign up for a time-share or club membership.
  • Look up online reviews, ask to speak to current clients or members, and be sure to have a clear understanding of the cancellation policy before you join.
  • Be wary of club memberships that promise many benefits for very little money.

If You’re Targeted

If you believe a vacation scam has targeted you, there are steps you can take to mitigate the damage.

First, if you’ve paid the “processing fee” or “tax” with a credit card, dispute the charge as soon as possible. If you’ve shared your credit card information, cancel the card and consider placing a credit freeze on your name.

Finally, let the FTC know about the scam so they can do their part in catching the scammers. If a travel company has targeted you, you can also alert the BBB so they can update their ratings and take appropriate action.

If the fraud also hits your WeStreet debit or credit card, report it to our Fraud Center, and we will help you through the process.

Responsible behavior never goes on vacation. Follow the tips outlined here to keep safe from a free vacation scam.