Watch your wallet while you’re on vacation.
You’ve heard that advice before, haven’t you? With the summer travel season in full swing, you’re likely to hear it again, from friends, family and the occasional consumer journalist.
But the real danger isn’t from an overt scam like the “fake” front desk call at the hotel in the middle of the night or the spoofed Wi-Fi hotspot. It isn’t even the predatory timeshare salesmen that take money from you in increments of thousands of dollars.
I mean, let’s be honest: with a little common sense, you can avoid most of these swindles. Also, it’s unfair and a little misleading to say they’re “summer” scams because the bad guys prey on you 365 days a year. The real hazards are where you least expect them, and they affect you in less obvious ways.
Here are my top 5:
Practicing unsafe plastic. The truly effective scams depend on money being siphoned away in tiny amounts — $2 or $3 at a time — from a credit card whose number is compromised. When you’re on the road, your unsecured, non-chip-and-pin American credit card can be scanned, swiped and cloned by villains. Don’t expect to see thousand-dollar charges from Zambia (although that does happen from time to time). Instead, the scammers count on you not checking your card balance, and missing that dollar charge for a merchant you’ve never heard of.
The fix: Ask your bank for a safer chip-and-pin card and review your credit card statement at least once a month.
Death by a thousand fees. The travel industry, and particularly airlines, haven’t met a fee they didn’t love. Like the credit card scam, these “gotchas” don’t take you for hundreds of bucks at a time, although that does happen. Instead, it’s a few dollars here, a few dollars there. A $2 delivery fee at your hotel for a newspaper you never requested, a $5 candy bar from a minibar, a $20 fee to check your luggage; alone, these fees are chicken scratch, but put them all together and you’re spending more, maybe a lot more, for your vacation.
The fix: Always, always, always ask if the price you’re paying includes everything. A travel company won’t always volunteer that information. If you know, you can make a more informed purchasing decision.
“Conveniences” that aren’t there for you. It’s come to this: When you see the word “for your convenience” anywhere when you travel, it’s probably a scam. Consider dynamic currency exchanges on credit cards, which are billed as a convenience and often fraudulently implemented on your bill when you travel overseas. I covered this currency fiasco, which can happen on a Visa or Master Card bill, in a previous post.
The fix: Be wary of anything that’s advertised as a “convenience.” It’s probably anything but that. And don’t forget to check your credit card statement to make sure a business didn’t sneak the charge on your card, anyway.