Outright Scams: What to Watch For and How to Tell If an Offer Is Legitimate
To those of us who are ethical, educated, and hard working, the idea of people calling themselves agents when they are untrained and simply out to scam another senior makes our blood boil.
The Internet has opened up many new ways for fraudulent travel agents, agencies, and clubs to swindle their unsuspecting customer. Fraudulent travel agencies and travel clubs usually advertise either through spam on the Internet or with classified ads in newspapers and fliers. The ads always offer ridiculously low prices, and they target a large but vulnerable group of seniors — usually those who want a cheap vacation.
These con artists use spam and fake websites to lure customers into handing over their cash. Their spam can be quite difficult to distinguish from advertising by genuine travel agencies. Think about the last time you saw an ad that caught your eye because of the cheap prices, but since you are discerning mature travelers in the Anthem Travel Club, you knew there was something wrong. Why? Because our club is about education, not selling a cruise or bus tour.
There is another kind of swindler hitting the seniors: this is one who promises a cheap group tour, whether it is a bus tour or a cruise. While technically not illegal, it is very misleading and potentially dangerous.
Remember: You are NOT on a senior-friendly group tour unless your concerns as a senior traveler are fully addressed:
- Do you need to walk slower?
- Do you have a medical condition that might require attention — before, during and after your trip?
- Do you need a wheelchair or other devices to get you on board a ship or through the airport?
- Are you a solo traveler?
- Do you have the right travel insurance? (A real travel agent will be able to help you with this and make sure you get the insurance you need.)
- Are events on board planned for you or for the mass market?
- Are there bathroom facilities around, and are you given ample time to use them?
- Do you have a professional tour manager with you to help you handle all your senior needs?
- And in the case of an emergency: do you have someone who is a Certified Special Needs Tour Director who has been working and traveling with you and knows you to help you?
Here are some stories of typical Senior rip-off situations:
- The scammers send emails or call and say something like, “You have won a cruise! Just call this number!” Or you are directed to call a number on their web site. You may even be thinking that you are talking to a cruise line. While you are holding to talk to someone, you rack up telephone fees, because you can be calling any were in the world. There are many people who look for the cheapest rate rather than go with a travel advisor, and the scammers know this. This happens more than you think — people give out their charge card numbers, and of course do not receive tickets but rather a huge credit card bill. With sophisticated design programs and easy access to hosting services, it is not hard to make a very official-looking website. It’s best to keep in mind the wise words of our mothers: “Honey, you cant get somethin’ for nothin’!”
- Just the other day, someone came to me all excited, saying that she had won a free cruise on Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. All she has to do was call this number and put $59.00 on her charge card. I really believe she would have done it if we had not talked her out of it. Why would Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (or any cruise line) give a free cruise to her or anyone else?
- The other night someone came to me with a very unprofessional flier. First of all, it offered the entire package for $1499.00 per person — this included air fare (from where it did not say), four nights in a hotel at the destination (it did not specify which hotels), and a seven-night cruise. Even though this had all the clear markings of a scam, this person asked, “Can you get it cheaper for me?” Unfortunately, I had a margarita or two in me, and I said, “Who do you not want to pay — the captain of the ship or the captain of the plane?” Sometimes you get a senior moment!
- Be wary of any form of advertising, whether on the Internet, on TV, or in print, that gives few details and promises a lot for little or no money.
- Request written information on the total cost of the trip with all items included. If it is not listed, assume you will have to pay for it, especially if it is a budget company.
- It is easy to find the names of some of the worst companies by going to www.Complaints.com
As a member of The Signature Travel Network, and as an agent with years of experience traveling with seniors (and as one!), my goal is to provide the most incredible experiences for the most incredible value. The truth is, buying through a legitimate agent is not always going to be the cheapest. But it will be the best, the most fun, and the safest way to have your senior travel adventure.
What about you? Do you have any good travel-scam stories? Please share in the comments section below, you might just help one of your fellow travelers avoid an expensive scam!