Avoiding Travel Scams Aimed at Seniors
Watch out for travel deals that seem too good to be true. They probably are, and may be designed to rip consumers off. Airlines and other well-known companies sometimes operate contests for travel prizes. However, there are also companies that offer "free" trips to try to lure people into buying their products or services. It's never "free" if you have to pay something. A lot of these so called "free" trips are swindles aimed at seniors because travel is such a popular pastime for many retirees.
Fraudulent travel offers can be hard to distinguish from legitimate ones. The Federal Trade Commission warns that consumers should avoid doing business with companies that:
- use high-pressure sales tactics,
- promote elaborate trips at below-market prices,
- urge you to use a courier service or overnight mail to send payment, or
- tell you that they need your credit card number for identification purposes.
If a vacation/travel offer sounds too good to be true, be careful. If you receive an offer by phone or mail for a free or extremely low-priced vacation trip to a popular destination, there are a few things you should always keep in mind:
Know the company you are dealing with. If you're not familiar with the company, get its complete name, address and local telephone number. Be wary if the names of the seller and travel provider differ. You may be dealing with a telemarketer who has no further responsibility to you after the sale. Don't accept vague terms such as "major hotels" or "luxury cruise ships." Get the names, addresses and telephone numbers for lodging, airlines and cruise ships you will be using. Ask for brochures and get the details of your vacation in writing, and a copy of the cancellation and refund policies. Any legitimate travel company will be happy to oblige your request for more information.
Check out the company's track record. Contact the Attorney General, consumer protection agency and the Better Business Bureau in your state.
Understand all costs. Know what is and what is not included. Are there extra fees for maintenance, processing, dues, peak season, upgrades, hotels, airlines, port taxes and meals? Also, a free or incredibly cheap trip may have hidden costs.
Are you being pressured to make an immediate decision? Never make a decision on the spot. Insist on taking any contract or paperwork home to study, or ask for a copy of the contract.
Conduct your own research. It's easy to get information from a local travel agent and other sources such as newspapers, books, and the internet. You may be able to get the trip you want for far less than the "bargain" price a company is offering.
Always pay for your trip with a credit card. Fraudulent travel operators take the money and run, and even legitimate companies can suddenly go out of business. Credit cards are the safest way to pay because you can dispute the charges if you never get the services you were promised or the offer was misrepresented. Federal law limits your liability to $50 if someone makes unauthorized charges to your account, and most credit card issuers will remove them completely if you report the problem promptly.
So remember, in your quest to take that much needed and desired vacation, be wary of offers that sound too good to be true. Do your homework and research the company and the offer.
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