When booking a hotel stay, have you ever simply typed in the name of a hotel in the search bar and clicked on one of the top results? Careful – this method could easily swindle you out of money and a place to stay the night.
In a study released last year by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), it was reported that 15 million hotel bookings made in the U.S. are affected by deceptive rogue affiliates annually, translating to about roughly US$1.3 billion going to fake bookings. The study also found that one in four American travelers have reported being duped in 2016, a dramatic rise from the just 6% of travelers in 2015.
Here’s how it works: you search for a hotel using a search engine and click on one of the top results. The website looks legitimate, so you decide to make a booking. The payment is non-refundable, but you’re fairly certain you’ll be making the trip, so you enter your card details. Later, you arrive at the hotel on your booked date, but the hotel staff say your booking doesn’t exist.
These fraudulent websites have gotten so good at mimicking an affiliation with a certain hotel or tricking travelers into believing that they are indeed the official website, that it constantly fools travelers into making reservations. Often, the transaction results in false reservations, fraudulent credit card charges, incorrect accommodations, and more. So the next time you’re booking a hotel room, be sure to take these precautions to protect yourself.
Check The Site’s URL
A good rule of thumb is to look at the website’s URL, legitimate sites generally will begin with HTTPS instead of HTTP, with the “s” denoting a secure site. The AHLA also recommends to look for the lock symbol in the upper-left side of the search bar, a sign that indicates the site is secure. As a matter of fact, you should never put credit card details, password, or any form of identification into a non-secure site.
Book Or Call Directly
The safest way is to book directly through the hotel’s website or a trusted third-party site. Keep in mind that when you type a hotel name into a search engine, the top results aren’t necessarily the official ones since you can easily pay to be the top spot on the results page. If there are any doubts about the site, call the hotel directly. If you’re afraid you might have reached a scammer’s call centre, AHLA recommends asking questions only legitimate front desk staff would be able to answer, like recommendations for local restaurants and attractions.
Keep An Eye Out For Refund Clauses
Most hotels only take your payment information when you arrive. Others will charge a nominal fee for a deposit and the full fee when you arrive. Aggregate websites may charge you in full for the transaction but there is often a clear communication on when full payment is required. In the competitive environment today, most hotels have refund clauses should you wish to cancel your booking leading up to the trip.
Go Credit, Not Debit
Aside from the fact that credit cards generally offer more fraud protection than debit cards, they are also more accommodating in recouping your money. Something you’ll be grateful for in the case where the fraudulent booking is only the tip of the iceberg and the scam also doubles as a phishing scam (where financial information is extracted from your booking to rack up other expenditure).
Get The Price Breakdown
Be wary of websites that don’t allow you to view a breakdown of your fees. Typically, there is a clear breakdown of additional fees you’re expected to pay (booking fee, services tax, local government taxes, etc). Scam websites may present nett prices to draw you in or make the breakdown difficult to locate in order to avoid potential victims making sense out of the nonsensical prices.
By Sue May
This article originally appeared on Zafigo, a travel guide for women travellers in Asia and the Middle East, and is republished with permission.