We all know that there are scammers on the net, actually a lot of them. The common forms of scams are already well known, Nigerian letters and advance payment scams for example. But scammers do develop their methods to fool more people. I recently saw a warning about an interesting variant where the scammers ask for advance payments for travel services. This warning involved booking.com so you should be extra careful if you have used them recently. But the advices I share here are generic and not specific to booking.com anyway.
The warning I refer to is in Swedish but I’ll provide the main points here in English. Here’s what happened according to the story.
- Someone books a trip on-line.
- Booking information leaks out to scammers somehow. This could be because of a hacking incident at booking.com, a crooked employee or maybe also through a hacked customer mail account.
- Now the scammers contact the customer. They claim to be the hotel and require advance payment for the stay. This can be quite convincing as they know what hotel has been booked and at what dates. The payment must be a wire transfer, credit cards are not accepted.
- Sadly, some customers fall for this and do the payment. They never see the money again and still have to pay the full price for the hotel.
Here the key differentiator from ordinary scams is that the scammers have info about a valid purchase done by the customer. This enables them to be very convincing and impersonate the hotel (or some other provider of services) in a believable way.
Fortunately it is quite easy to defeat this, and many other scam attempts, with some simple rules.
- Always pay your on-line purchases with a credit card. Period. If this isn’t possible, shop somewhere else instead. The credit card company acts as a buffer between you and the recipient of the payment, and adds a significant amount of security.
- Never use wire transfers of money. Period. This is the standard method for scammers as it is next to impossible to get transactions reversed. If someone claims that no other method is available, it is a very strong signal that something is wrong.
- If you have selected to pay by credit card, as you always should do, then it is a strong warning signal if someone tries to deviate from that and ask for money using some other payment method.
- Remember that it is next to impossible to verify the identity of the other part if someone contacts you. If you get contacted like this and have any kind of doubts, you can always contact the company you bought from to verify if they really have contacted you.
- The risk with credit cards is that your card number may be shared with several companies, like airline, car rental and the hotel, in the case of travel booking. Each of these may charge your card. Incorrect charges may occur either by mistake or deliberately. Always check your credit card bill carefully and complain about unauthorized charges. This is some extra work, but the customer will usually get unauthorized charges corrected.
- And a last hint not really related to scammers. Be careful with the grand total of your on-line purchase. Travel bookers are notorious for not showing the real grand total until at a very late stage in the purchase process. It is very easy to make price comparisons on figures that aren’t comparable. If possible, prefer honest sites that show you the real price upfront.
Memorize these rules and the likelihood that you will be scammed is very small. The best way to fight scam is to not take the bait. So by being careful you not only save your own money, you also participate in fighting this form of crime as you make it less profitable. If you want to do even more, share the info and help others become aware.
If you liked this post, you may also like the story about when I sold my boat.
PS. The story I base this on was seen on Facebook. It is not verified, but I find it to be believable. It doesn’t really matter anyway if the story is true or not. The story is plausible and forms an excellent warning about Internet scams, which unfortunately is a widespread and very real form of crime.
Image by Ho John Lee