How college students can avoid spring break travel scams

If you plan to travel out of the country, having an updated passport is essential. (Credit: Full Issue)

If you plan to travel out of the country, having an updated passport is essential. (Credit: Full Issue)

There may still be snow where you are, but it’s not too early to start planning your spring break travel. Unfortunately, some of those great deals you find online or through a little-known travel company may result in travel scams or outright fraud. You can protect yourself from some of the most common scams by reading the fine print in any agreement you sign, or using your credit card to make purchases (since credit cards are insured against fraud). You can also help protect your parents against spring break phone scams. To get tips on how to avoid scams during your spring break, keep reading!

Make sure you check out the company first

It may seem great to go with a small travel company—but check their rating with the Better Business Bureau, or find out if they’re a member of the American Society of Travel Agents, the National Tour Association or the United States Tour Operators Association before you put in your deposit. On an advice form released by the Minnesota Attorney General’s office, “Avoid spring break travel scams,” the writer recommended, “Always research a company first and make sure that it is right for you before you sign on the dotted line.”

Speaking of signing on the dotted line…

Get everything in writing. This gives you a chance to read the fine print and check for hidden fees that weren’t mentioned in the initial quote. Make sure your contract includes dates, airline carrier, hotel, cancellation policies and any restrictions or additional fees you might encounter.

Reading the fine print on both your contract and your invoice is imperative, according to an OSPIRGStudents contributor in “Spring break scams.” Always check your contract, because “Companies need to tell you how your trip will operate. Even if they make their policies difficult to read, smart consumers will look them over before sending any money. If you can’t get answers to your questions, avoid using that company.”

The OSPIRGStudents writer also recommended that, when you’re looking over your invoice, check for anything labeled:

  • International departure and arrival taxes
  • Processing fees
  • Peak week surcharges
  • Late booking fees
  • Departure city surcharges
  • Fuel surcharges

Above all, don’t waive your legal rights, especially the right to sue them if something goes dreadfully wrong (remember the Costa Concordia?).

Travel insurance and all-inclusive

Travel insurance prevents you from losing a lot of money due to cancellation—but if you have other insurance to cover this, it might be unnecessary. Consider your options and determine whether travel insurance is a benefit.

Likewise, you might consider an all-inclusive package that provides your meals and travel. Just read the fine print carefully—that “all-inclusive” package may be providing vouchers for local businesses rather than through your hotel, and those vouchers may or may not be accepted.

If it seems too good to be true…

It probably is. Don’t believe that you’ve won something, especially if you get an unsolicited call or e-mail. Deals that offer five star hotels may switch at the end, saying they had to find a “comparable” place for you to stay—a cheaper location they probably booked in the first place.

You may also get a really good deal because of a co-terminal option. This means the travel company can choose an alternate terminal—which isn’t so bad if your campus is between two nearby airports and either is convenient. But when the co-terminals get crazy—Newark/JFK/LaGuardia/Philadelphia, for example—you could be adding hours and expense to just getting to the airport.

Phone scams and online safety

While you’re away, consider limiting what you post to your Facebook feed and other social media. “We certainly don’t put a ‘gone fishing’ sign on the door when we leave town-inviting criminals to take advantage of an easy mark,” wrote Kristin Judge in “Online safety: Think before you post and don’t overshare information on social networking sites” for Heritage.com. “So, why do people insist on sharing their itinerary and real-time photos online when they go on vacation?”

Consider waiting until you’re home to share your photos—or limiting the people who can see your posts. Broadcasting that you’re away from campus could mean you come home to a missing computer from your dorm room.

That said, you should check in with your parents. Scammers call parents of students they know to be on spring break (possibly because of those tweets about waiting to board your plane). Posing as a medical or legal professional, the scammer says that you are in trouble and your parents need to wire money. By keeping your parents up to date on where you are and what you’re doing, you can keep them from getting phone scammed.

What tips can you offer for staying safe on spring break? Tell us in the comments.

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