Monday, July 27, 2015

Online hotel scams are getting increased scrutiny from politicians and the
FTC.
(Photo: Thinkstock)By Robert McGarveyStop right there.
Do not click "book it," no matter how tasty the hotel deal appears to be.


First, understand that there are enough scammers out there erecting bogus
hotel websites – designed to snag your credit-card and personal info
such as zip code – that the entire Florida Congressional delegation
recently sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission demanding that the FTC
investigate scams that, said the politicians, ensnare thousands of consumers
every year.


Last month, U.
S.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) fired the first warning shots when he wrote
the FTC with complaints that as bogus websites proliferate, "consumers
subsequently discovered that they had provided their payment information to
companies unauthorized by, and unaffiliated with, legitimate hotel chains or
travel services.
"

"It appears," Grassley continued, "that many of these third-party
companies may be using marketing or other strategies – such as websites
with a hotel’s trademarks and imagery – designed to lead
consumers to trust that they are booking directly with their hotel of choice.
"

Grassley is claiming that, suddenly, there are lots of websites –
typically hijacking the legit images, trademarks, sometimes text found on
the authentic websites – and this is happening precisely to rip you
off.
Now the FTC has, in effect, said there are strong reasons to worry about this.
 In a pair of recent posts, the agency warned both leisure and
business travelers to be on the alert for scammers.
Wrote the FTC: "Here’s a tip for business travelers.
Just because a webpage looks like the official site of your favorite hotel
chain doesn’t necessarily mean it is.
Before you reserve a room for your next out-of-town meeting or family
vacation, make sure you know who’s at the other end of that BOOK NOW
button.
" More from TheStreet: Top 10 Travel Destinations for Summer
2015 If you see a place like this on sale for $99 per night, be very
suspicious.
(Photo: Thinkstock)Maryam Cope, vice president of the American Hotel &
Lodging Association in Washington, D.
C.
, has estimated that as many as 2.
5 million bookings a year may be via bogus websites.
Not all are designed to rip consumers off outright.


Experts said that some are websites designed to leach commissions and booking
fees from hotels, simply by pretending to actually be the hotel.
Hoteliers have put up a cry about these con artists – insisting that
often the sites promise deals and amenities that won’t be delivered
and, sometimes, the bookings do not actually get made and vacationers show up
at hotels where they believe they have reservations only to be turned away.
None of that is good – it’s a definite bummer for those who are
turned away – but what is new is the insistence that suddenly there is
an explosion of downright crooked websites that have no interest in booking
rooms or collecting commissions.
They just want your credit card data.


The Better Business Bureau, in a recent alert, also sounded a loud warning:
"Scammers are creating fake hotel booking websites to steal money from
travelers.
Some scam sites make money by tacking on additional fees, but others charge
you for a room that simply doesn’t exist.
In any case, sharing your credit card and personal information, such as name,
address and phone number, on scam websites puts you at risk for identity
theft.
"Related:  Europe’s Worst Countries for Travel Scams What’s
fueling this uptick? Simple: there’s been an enormous jump in the
percentage of hotel rooms that are booked on mobile phones, and it simply is
not easy to detect a crooked website at a glance on a small screen, said
Craig Lurey, CTO at Keeper Security.


Experts estimate that today about 25% of travel bookings are via mobile and
the number grows daily.
But don’t think only hotels are targeted.


Said identity theft expert Robert Siciliano: "There are scam/spoofed sites for
probably every product and service that exists, and there always will be.
" That’s a fact: hotel scam sites may not be significantly more
numerous than other crooked websites, but there also is a big temptation to
click when you get an email that purports to offer a five-star Hawaii hotel
for a jaw dropping $99 per night – the real price probably is upwards
of $500.
Do you click, or ignore it?

Key advice from experts: if in doubt, just don’t click.
Ever.


And don’t assume that a call to a phone number provided on a bogus
website will bring anything but grief.
That’s because there are more examples where crooks are operating
shadow call centers, again designed to separate credit card info from the
gullible.
  Related: 5 Hotel Scams That Could Ruin Your Next Vacation

More advice from Lurey, especially for those who would struggle with the
temptation, is to use only Safari or Chrome browsers on iPhones, and only
Chrome on Android.
That’s because those leading browsers are continually updated, said
Lurey, and they also feature built-in scam-detection tools that are designed
to protect mobile users from phishing scams.
Lurey stressed that those protections are not perfect, but they are a lot
better than nothing, which is what many mobile browsers offer.
Advice from some experts is to not book hotel rooms at hotel websites on a
mobile device.
Instead, use a mobile app provided by an online travel agency such as Expedia
or Hotels.
com or a large hotel company such as Marriott or Starwood.
That just is more secure.


Bottom line: know that crooks are on the prowl for bargain-hungry vacationers
this summer – and always be suspicious.
That’s the real path to lasting Internet security.
More from TheStreet:7 Ways to Maintain Affordable Health Care When You Are
Traveling
Traveling With Kids: 10 Ideas for Your Family Summer Vacation
WATCH: Spend the Best Day of Your Life in an Elephant Retirement Home
Let World traveling club Travel inspire you every day.
 Watch World traveling club Travel’s original series "A Broad
Abroad.
"
Online hotel scams are getting increased scrutiny from politicians and the
FTC.
Beware before you book.
.
Related:  Europe’s Worst Countries for Travel Scams What’s
fueling this uptick? Simple: there’s been an enormous jump in the
percentage of hotel rooms that are booked on mobile phones, and it simply is
not easy to detect a crooked website at a glance on a small screen, said
Craig Lurey, CTO at Keeper Security.


Experts estimate that today about 25% of travel bookings are via mobile and
the number grows daily.
But don’t think only hotels are targeted.


Said identity theft expert Robert Siciliano: "There are scam/spoofed sites for
probably every product and service that exists, and there always will be.
" That’s a fact: hotel scam sites may not be significantly more
numerous than other crooked websites, but there also is a big temptation to
click when you get an email that purports to offer a five-star Hawaii hotel
for a jaw dropping $99 per night – the real price probably is upwards
of $500.
Do you click, or ignore it?

Key advice from experts: if in doubt, just don’t click.
Ever.


And don’t assume that a call to a phone number provided on a bogus
website will bring anything but grief.
That’s because there are more examples where crooks are operating
shadow call centers, again designed to separate credit card info from the
gullible.
  Related: 5 Hotel Scams That Could Ruin Your Next Vacation

More advice from Lurey, especially for those who would struggle with the
temptation, is to use only Safari or Chrome browsers on iPhones, and only
Chrome on Android.
That’s because those leading browsers are continually updated, said
Lurey, and they also feature built-in scam-detection tools that are designed
to protect mobile users from phishing scams.
Lurey stressed that those protections are not perfect, but they are a lot
better than nothing, which is what many mobile browsers offer.
Advice from some experts is to not book hotel rooms at hotel websites on a
mobile device.
Instead, use a mobile app provided by an online travel agency such as Expedia
or Hotels.
com or a large hotel company such as Marriott or Starwood.
That just is more secure.


Bottom line: know that crooks are on the prowl for bargain-hungry vacationers
this summer – and always be suspicious.
That’s the real path to lasting Internet security.
More from TheStreet:7 Ways to Maintain Affordable Health Care When You Are
Traveling
Traveling With Kids: 10 Ideas for Your Family Summer Vacation
WATCH: Spend the Best Day of Your Life in an Elephant Retirement Home
Let World traveling club Travel inspire you every day.
 Watch World traveling club Travel’s original series "A Broad
Abroad.
"
Online hotel scams are getting increased scrutiny from politicians and the
FTC.
Beware before you book.

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