Photo: Song_about_summer/Shutterstock

US Gov't Warns Travelers to Look Out for These 5 Spring Break Travel Scams

Travel Safety
by Suzie Dundas Mar 19, 2024

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) this week published a consumer alert just in time for spring break, warning consumers about spring break travel scams to watch out for as Americans travel this month and next.

“Not only could your dream vacation turn into a nightmare,” warns the FTC of these common spring break travel scams, “but if you pay, it’ll be hard to get your money back.”

The Federal Trade Commission is the US government body tasked with protecting consumers and promoting competition via consumer education; by working with law enforcement agencies to protect consumers from unfair business practices, including deceptive advertising, fraudulent schemes, and privacy violations; and by providing a platform for consumers to report issues and violations. The FTC is also tasked with helping consumers to recognize and avoid travel scams, such as the ones detailed in the alert.

These are the spring break travel scams the FTC warned against, along with tips and hints for making sure you don’t fall for travel scams.

Travel scam 1: “Free” vacations

The FTC describes this scam as any type of message you get saying you’ve won a free vacation. “If you respond to these offers,” warns the website, “you’ll quickly learn that you have to pay some fees and taxes first.” Of course, there’s no vacation at all — it’s just a scam to get you to transfer information and money to the scammer.

How to avoid it: The best way to avoid this scam is by using common sense. If you can’t remember entering a contest, it’s probably a scam. If you’ve legitimately won a travel prize, you won’t be asked to pay anything in advance. If you can’t tell if it’s real, do some research. Look up the company, the email address or phone number the message came from, and even Google the specific language of the message word-for-word. Legitimate prizes will be announced via phone calls or emails, which will always look professional and have contact information for the gift-giving organization. If the email has spelling errors, doesn’t have basic contact information, or lacks legitimate details, it’s probably a scam.

Travel scam 2: Calls from bots offering vacation deals

spring break travel scams - woman on phone

You should be very suspicious of any calls out-of-the-blue offering travel deals. Photo: – Yuri A/Shutterstock

Right off the bat: a legitimate company won’t spam you with phone calls. If you’re getting robocalls from companies selling you travel products at suspiciously low prices, stay suspicious — it’s probably a spring break travel scam. The FTC warns that robocalls to sell you something are illegal, unless a company has your explicit permission to call you.

You can report robocall scams at this link. You can even report calls if you’re not sure if they’re scams, as legitimate businesses not doing anything wrong won’t be punished if they’re incorrectly reported. And if a call appears on your phone’s caller ID as an unknown numbers or a nonsensical name, that’s also a red flag.

How to avoid it: You shouldn’t buy anything from a cold call over the phone, and should never give your credit card over the phone, unless you’re entirely sure you’re talking to a reputable, legitimate company. To find out if you are talking to a legitimate company, ask for lots of information. Ask for the names and contact info for the people you’re talking to, and call them back/test it out. Ask for a website and for other methods for paying other than over the phone.

Always make sure you’re talking to a real person from the very beginning. If you’re talking to a bot, hang up. If you’re not sure if you’re talking to a bot, just start asking unexpected questions, which bots often can’t respond to. And beware of calls creating a sense of urgency, as legitimate businesses won’t pressure you with scare tactics.

Travel scam 3: International travel document scams and cloned websites



View this post on Instagram


A post shared by IDSTRONG (@idstrong)

One of the most popular spring break travel scams is to claim you need some sort of urgent visa or passport document for your upcoming travel, and then charge you to get it. Of course, it’s totally made up. You may also see sites called “clones” — sites that look like official government websites, but actually send your information to scammers, instead of the US Department of State (or whatever country’s embassy you were trying to reach).

“These sites charge you high fees,” warns the FTC, “including fees for services that are free on the U.S. Department of State’s website.”

How to avoid it: On the State Department website, you can look up exact requirements for any visas or other travel documents based on where you’re going. That is always correct, and if someone calls you or you see an online ad saying otherwise, it’s probably a scam. The same page will also give you specific instructions and links on how to apply for any required travel documents. Most countries charge very low fees for visas (but not all).

Travel scam 4: International driving permit scams



View this post on Instagram


A post shared by AAA (@aaa_national)

One of the most dangerous spring break travel scams to fall for is buying a fake international driving permit. You can buy fake IDPs online, in person, or even at temporary storefronts in some countries. “You could face legal problems or travel delays if you’re detained for using it to drive in a foreign country,” warns the FTC.

How to avoid it: Fortunately, this is also one of the easiest spring break travel scams to avoid. There are only three organizations legally allowed to issue international driving permits: The US State Department, the American Automobile Association (i.e. Triple A, or AAA), and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA). If it comes from anyone else, it’s a scam.

Travel scam 5: Vacation home dupes

@alixearle What do we do now!?!!!! #girlstrip #positano ♬ original sound – Alix Earle

Vacation home rentals are more popular than ever, especially for groups who find it more convenient to book on Airbnb or VRBO instead of getting multiple hotel rooms. And while it’s easy to find home rentals, it’s also easy for scammers to find your booking information.

The FTC warns that scammers may make copies of Airbnb listings and advertise them as if they owned them, which can lead to lost money, lost time, or even showing up to your booking, only to find it’s already rented by the legitimate owner. The US government is actively prosecuting and fining people who commit this type of fraud, so it’s very important to report any instances of this spring break travel scam you come across.

How to avoid it: To avoid scams involving fake listings and double bookings, you’ll need to do a little extra research before you book. Be wary of listings with unrealistic prices, stolen photos, or vague descriptions. Verify the address using GoogleMaps, and check for reviews to see if past renters encountered issues. You can also message owners via Airbnb and other legitimate booking platforms to ask questions. Never communicate or pay outside the platform, and avoid any property that asks for payment via wire transfers, gift cards, or cash payments. Legitimate rentals will have reviews, clear communication, and a proper rental agreement. If something seems off, trust your gut and look elsewhere.

Travel scam 5: Flight scams

Flight scams are some of the most timely spring break travel scams, since so many travelers plan last-minute vacations. If anyone tries to sell you a charter or private flight to a destination, be sure to do your research and make sure it comes from a legitimate company. Scammers will ask you to pay a deposit (or the whole price) on a flight that doesn’t even exist. This could be for travel to destinations, or tourist activities like flyovers or seaplane tours.

How to avoid it: Not just anyone is allowed to sell charter services to the public, and the State Department maintains a list of approved public charter flights. Any company you book with should be listed on that website, and the contact and name information should match. “If the charter filing is not approved by DOT before the package is sold, you’re probably dealing with a dishonest charter operator,” says the FTC website. Flight scams can also look like cloned website scams — you may think you’re booking a legitimate flight deal, but you’re actually giving your money (and your information) to scammers.

Discover Matador