Spring break scams targeting students

Spring is upon us. But with temperatures across the country still in winter-like digits, what better reason to look forward to spring break escapes!

Still recovering from the Great Recession and feeling the pinch of the ever-increasing cost of higher education, many students will be looking for deals as they make their spring break travel plans.

Scammers are keenly aware of this and are advertising custom-tailored schemes to defraud this vulnerable group. Police in many tourist areas, meanwhile, are often so busy trying to perform their normal duties while maintaining order during the often wild spring break period that they cannot track down all fraudsters, who may keep under the radar by swindling a relatively small amount of money compared to other criminals. Knowing that this lowers the chance of being caught, scammers have become increasingly bold.

Indeed, local media organizations and business groups across the country are warning students of this widespread fraud. In general, these notices caution of any offer that seems too good to be true. The reports show that these scams come in many different forms, from offers that promise vacation packages for far less than other companies, to misleading information on what accommodations a hostel has, to travel packages that seem to include flight or hotel reservations but really only offer something unrelated, and worth quite less. The list goes on and on.

Thankfully, there are ways for students and other consumers to protect themselves. Here are some guidelines students should consider before booking.

  • Proceed with caution when considering deals that seem to offer a lot (five-star hotels, premium airfare, etc.) for a very low price or that require immediate payment to retain a rate. When something seems too good to be true, it generally is.
  • Ensure that all details from the purchase are in writing, including the total cost, any restrictions that may apply, and the exact names of the hotels or airlines promised (if applicable).
  • Be wary of any claims that say you ‘won’ something, especially if the offer is unsolicited.
  • Pay for the vacation with a credit card so you are protected if something goes wrong, and so authorities can more easily track the fraudulent vender. In fact, try to avoid companies that require payments by only cash, check, or wire transfer.
  • Go online to see if the company has an established reputation. Look to see if other consumers have complained of hidden fees or sudden price increases.
  • If a third party company claims to have purchased airline tickets or hotel reservations, call the companies yourself to ensure that the claim is valid. Some consumers have traveled long distances only to find that the hotel they thought they were staying at does not exist.