Summer is travel season for many of us. Utica area artists, particularly musicians and other performing artists, may be heading out on the road to perform at festivals and events in other cities, while those of us who only work locally might be on our way to conferences, workshops, or other business trips for our second job or day job. And although everything is far from affordable right now, there must be at least a few of us who just plain need a vacation.
One group of people who are sadly not taking a vacation are scammers. They remain hard at work, and focused on our professional and personal travel plans. Here are just a few of the travel scams on the rise for summer 2022, and how to spot them.
The rental of your scammer’s dreams.
One of the most basic scams out there involves tricking people into paying money for something that does not exist. The scam unfolds as you might expect. You’re looking for a place to stay, and come across the perfect hotel, lodge, cabin, or suite. You quickly message the person offering the rental, send them your money, and cross “find a place to stay” off your list. Everything goes according to plan. Everything goes according to plan until you drive up to the place, hoping to put your stuff away and rest for a bit before exploring your destination. The address you were given turns out to belong to an empty lot, or a Walmart, or a complete stranger’s house or the back alley behind a garage. Calls, texts, and other messages to the person you rented from go unanswered. Your money is gone, and you have nowhere to stay.
Anyone traveling to someplace completely unfamiliar may want to visit a local travel agent with expertise in booking travel and arranging lodging. If you are going someplace you are reasonably familiar with, such as a neighboring state or a city you have visited in the past, refuse to book travel anywhere but a reputable travel website. No legitimate renter is ever going to ask you to leave an established site like Travelocity, Expedia, or AirBnB dot com and make a payment someplace else.
Carefully check reviews before you book. A place that has no reviews may be a fake listing that was recently posted. While nobody has the time to read through multiple pages of reviews, take the time to read a few, noting not just problems, but word choice. Beware of multiple reviews that use the same words or phrases. They were likely written by the scammers themselves.
Finally, take a close look at the photos. Pictures that are grainy, out of focus, or of odd things such as corners and blank walls were likely taken at a random spot. Scan the pictures for details that do not match the listed location. If you aren't sure if there are palm trees where you're headed, or if that chain restaurant in the background exists in that city, do some online research or talk to a trusted friend who knows the area.
The interesting story that paid off…for a scammer.
While most scammers have embraced technology, there are still those who run old-fashioned, in person scams. The situation begins with something that looks like it will just be one of those everyday mishaps or misunderstandings that make for an interesting story to tell once you get back home. Someone spills something on you, and insists upon helping you clean your shirt or your bag. Or they bump into you and feel so terrible about it, they begin apologizing so profusely, it draws a crowd. Maybe they stopped you mid stroll down the street, talked you into signing their petition, and made such a scene about donating to the cause, you gave them some money just to get away.
None of these scenarios are coincidences. These are all common tactics scammers use to separate distracted travelers from their money. Avoid or leave the situation quickly. If someone bumps you and/or spills on you, say “It’s okay,” and move away from them before they can reach your bag or your pocket. Walk away from people pressuring you to sign a petition. If it turns out to be a real cause, you can learn more about it and show your support from the safety of your own room or at home.
The “help” that helps themselves to your banking information.
This one is not strictly a travel scam. As I sat in my own kitchen doing the research for the article you are reading right now, I received a text message from scammers pretending they were trying to help me. The text was allegedly from Amazon. They wanted to let me know my card was charged $495.99 for a VIZIO 60” Class V Series 4K LED Smart TV. The note assured me that they knew it was “not me” and they wanted me to contact them.
Sitting calmly in my kitchen, working on the arts writing portion of my writing work, I was able to instantly realize that this was a scam. Amazon does not send text messages from random numbers because they think my latest order wasn’t placed by me. But scammers are not counting on calm. They hope the recipient of the text will be distracted, panic, call the number, and provide the “helper” with the credit card number so the charge can be canceled. And we are often distracted when we are on a trip.
Fight back against this scam while traveling by taking a moment, no matter how rushed or distracted you might be. Never hurriedly click on any numbers in a strange text. Delete it immediately.
The bonus view of the strip that costs you a “bonus” for the scammer.
Las Vegas is a dream vacation spot for many. Some like the lure of the chance they might come back with a fortune. Others enjoy the glamorous image the city holds in the popular imagination. And still others just like the buffets, lights, and room service. Those who truly love Vegas love most or all of the above.
One way to put a damper on a Vegas vacation is getting drawn into the Vegas taxi scam. This one can be hard to spot, because the scammer is a legitimate taxi driver, who really is going to take you where you want to go. They are just going to offer to ‘show you the strip” before they do it, greatly increasing, sometimes doubling your fare.
Never announce that you want to see the strip or cannot wait to visit the strip. And don’t fall for what appears to be friendly chatter about where you’re from and how well you know Vegas. The cab driver isn’t trying to befriend you. They’re trying to find out how easy it might be to pull the scam. People who seem exhausted and/or unfamiliar with the city are the easiest targets, because they are likely not paying close attention to the route, and may be unaware that the drive down the strip is a waste of their money.
Refusing the ride will not cause you to miss out on the strip. Walking the strip is easy, and it is free.
Avoiding Vegas will not guarantee avoiding this scam. Unethical cab drivers in all cities can pull the same trick by promising to show you any famous nearby landmark. Always request the shortest route to your destination, no matter where you travel.
Whether you’re headed to an out of town gig, a business meeting, or finally going on vacation, look out for yourself, and each other.
by Jess Szabo originally published on Artist Cafe Utica www.artistcafeutica.com