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Consumer Affairs: Don’t get burned by vacation scams

From Staff Reports

As the school year winds down, many Tennesseans are turning their attention to vacation planning. The Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance’s (TDCI) Division of Consumer Affairs wants to remind consumers to be wary of summer vacation scams. 

“Vacation scams occur when a stranger offers you a free or discounted cruise, travel club membership, exotic resort stay or rental property in exchange for a large, upfront fee or deposit,” said TDCI Deputy Commissioner Bill Giannini. “If you accept, the scammer takes your money and/or personal identifying information, and you never receive the free or discounted offer. Tennessee consumers need to be diligent to avoid scams like these during the summer season.”

Consumers may receive scam offers via phone call, pamphlet, postcard, letter or email. To report a vacation scam, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov. 

Tips to Avoid Vacation Scams and Identity Theft:

• Research before accepting free or discounted offers. If a stranger calls to offer you a free or discounted vacation package, do not offer personal information or payment without knowing all the facts. Request as much information as possible to validate the offer. If the caller refuses to answer your questions or replies with a scripted response, this is a red flag. A legitimate salesperson will answer your questions and allow you time to consider. When in doubt, write down the caller’s contact information and consider returning the call once you are sure the call is not a scam. If you believe you are being scammed, contact the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov. You may also register for the National Do Not Call Registry at www.donotcall.gov.

• Verify before you pay. Before paying a company or individual for your vacation travels, vacation package, rental property or timeshare, contact the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs at 800-342-8385 or your local Better Business Bureau to ask if complaints have been filed against the company or individual. If you are considering leasing vacation property or purchasing a timeshare in Tennessee, verify the agent is properly licensed by visiting verify.tn.gov.

• Read the fine print. Before signing any contract, read all the terms, conditions, policies and financial obligations. When you consider leasing or purchasing a property or timeshare, it is recommended to have a lawyer review the agreement or contract before signing. 

Never wire money to strangers. When booking a vacation or renting property, avoid anyone who only accepts payment via wire transfer. Always use a secure method of payment, such as a credit card or legitimate online payment option.

• Confirm your vacation package. If you purchased your vacation package through a third party, directly call the cruise line, resort, hotel, airline, etc., to confirm the prices, reservations, quality of accommodations, and the number of seats and/or rooms are correct.

• Before leaving town, call your financial institution(s). Before traveling out of town for vacation, notify your credit card provider(s) and/or banking institution(s). If not, your card transactions may be declined, especially if your purchases don’t match your usual spending patterns.

• Monitor your credit during vacation. Don’t go on hiatus from checking your credit reports and credit scores. If someone fraudulently opens an account in your name, you may not notice until your credit is damaged. Request a free credit report every year at www.annualcreditreport.com.  Unexpected changes in your credit scores are red flags indicating potential fraud.

• When you return, check all receipts and statements. As soon as you return from vacation, reconcile your credit card and banking statements with your receipts. Extra charges are not necessarily fraudulent. Mistakes do happen, but regardless of whether a charge is an error or unauthorized, you should report the problem as soon as possible.

For more consumer tips, visit www.tn.gov/consumer.