Dubai: Ahead of Eid Al Adha holidays, Dubai police have advised people going on vacation to book their air tickets through licenced travel agencies or the airlines directly to ensure smooth travel.
“We urge you all to deal directly with official airlines or licensed tourism agencies, to ensure that your money and rights are well-protected,” Dubai police said on its official twitter handle.
The warning came after a number of travellers reported bogus or unknown travel websites offering cheap holiday packages and air tickets to destinations across the world.
A Dubai-based travel agent told Gulf News that people should be very careful while making their plans. “Sometime[s], ‘cheap ticket’ offers can land you in trouble and you can end up losing your money if you use unreliable websites,” he cautioned. He also said that the people should not share their personal and credit cards details on such ‘bogus’ websites.
Some online travel sites are duping holidaymakers with ‘too good to be true’ deals before ramping up prices through ‘questionable’ sales tactics, say experts.
These operators are often small websites, but they have access to huge audiences through popular search engines where their prices often appear among the cheapest fares. But often those who use these online channels to secure cheap flights are faced demands for more cash after making a booking - and been left high and dry if they insisted the agent honour the original bargain price.
So, what are the popular holiday scams?
The "Free airline ticket"
One of the most prevalent scams you may face is the free airline ticket. The free airline ticket online scam makes travellers think they are getting a free ticket when they actually get nothing for sharing a viral post, according to TripSavvy, a travel information site.
The free airline ticket online travel con is most prevalent on social media channels such as Facebook or Twitter. Through this scam, travellers often see a message or post for the “official” page of an airline or travel provider. The message claims every traveller can claim two free airline tickets if they click on their enclosed link and then forward it to friends.
Who is the target?
Because airline tickets can be costly, this scam targets anyone who is remotely interested in traveling. It relies on people following the instructions in order to self-perpetuate online, hopping from one person to another.
There are never any free airline tickets. Instead, you will reach a third-party “phishing” website unaffiliated with the airline, which will access your information. With one click, scammers can steal your friend’s list or get permission to post spam to your timeline. Elaborate scams even steal your username and password through a fake login page.
How to avoid being duped:
Lucky for online travellers, this scam is easy to pick out. First, check for misspellings in the page name, or titles like “Official Page.” Only pages with blue checkmarks are validated by social networks. Second, an airline running an actual contest will never ask travellers for access to their page through a third-party application or to re-sign into their social media network. If this “contest” asks you to do either, don’t click on it. Instead, report the scam to the social media channel, in order to kill it before it gets any further.
The "Free amusement parks tickets"
Much like the free ticket scam, this type of con looks to glean travellers’ personal information in exchange for a free amusement park ticket. However, that ticket rarely exists, leaving the would-be traveller compromised and empty-handed.
There are two primary ways the free amusement park ticket scam works. First, much like the free airline ticket online travel scam, crooks on social media channels may offer free amusement park tickets in exchange for traveller’s liking, sharing, or logging in for more information.
Who is the target?
Unlike the free airline ticket scam, the free amusement park ticket online travel scam primarily targets families who are looking for getaways. Through social media, this scam is often perpetuated from family to family, hopeful they can get a free getaway for simply sharing a status or link. On discount groups and peer-to-peer sites, scams are often offered by “frugal parents” who want to help out another family.
The "Facebook page scam"
While the first two scams are primarily perpetuated in different ways, the third scam lives for Facebook. All a scam artist needs is a logo and an incentive to capture your personal information.
How it works:
A fake Facebook page con happens when the scammer creates an official-looking page with the name of the travel provider. These pages often carry logos and branding, along with limited additional content. Through these pages, they will create promotions or offers for travellers, with the intention of getting them to sign up or share the link to their networks. In many cases, these “offers” run from a discounted airline ticket to a completely free ticket for signing up on their third-party app.
Who it targets:
This online travel scam targets anyone who wants a free flight—from families to experienced frequent flyers. Travellers will click on this scam because it is shared by a friend they are connected to, leading them to believe that it is a trustworthy deal.
But with no actual connection to the company, would-be travellers often end up giving away their information to third parties who only want to steal their identities. They will then use a target’s friend list to find more potential targets.
How to avoid it :
Travellers who run into a fake Facebook page online travel scam should first and foremost report it to Facebook for removal. Afterward, those same travellers can look up other means to travel for a discount.
The "Fake flight confirmation"
One of the newest travel scams to target travellers is disconnected from social media but instead targets your inbox. The “Confirm Your Flight” online travel scam reaches out to you through your inbox.
Days or weeks before a trip, travellers may receive an e-mail that appears to be from an airline. In the e-mail, the “airline” may say that the traveller has not yet confirmed their ticket and must go to a website to log in to confirm their travel.
When they click on the link, the traveller is guided to an official-looking site, where they may be asked to confirm their itinerary and passenger name record (PNR) or sign in through their frequent flyer account. Once a traveller does this, they have everything they need to go in and steal frequent flyer miles or hijack a ticket entirely.
Who it targets:
This scam often targets anyone with a frequent flyer account or may be preparing for a flight. While some attacks are more random than others, those who have posted travel plans on social media may be targeted.
Scam artists are targeting one of two pieces of information: either the travel PNR or the frequent flyer account information. Those who have the PNR potentially steal critical items of a traveller’s identity, including full name, address, and passport number, which can cause complications. Those looking to steal frequent flyer accounts often steal points and miles from the unknowing traveller, which can be later redeemed in someone else’s name.
How to avoid this:
Anyone who receives one of these e-mails should not click on the link or provide any information. Instead, they should first contact their airline to ensure tickets have not yet been compromised.
Second, they must change the password of their frequent flyer account, to make sure the information is kept safe and sound.
The "Bait-and-Switch airline deals"
In the early days of the internet, it was easy to set up a scam website to take money from unsuspecting travellers. Today, some of those scams are still alive and well, especially in the travel space. The “Bait and Switch” plan can still quickly take your money by replacing one flight's price with another.
This one is most prevalent among offshore online travel agencies. It works partially by using search engine advertisements or pop-up advertisements, claiming they can save you hundreds of dollars on a trip.
When travellers go to the website, they are presented with lower prices than at the major online travel agencies. What they often fail to disclose is the wide range of fees. This can include online convenience fees, to special ticketing fees imposed by the website. As a result, you don’t end up seeing the much bigger price you actually pay until after you give up your credit card number.
Who it targets:
Anyone who travels is always looking for the best available price. And with many different international airlines looking for your business, there are always multiple options. This scam looks to steal money from the most frugal of travellers who want the best price. Instead of getting the best price, these sites often overcharge on purpose with few avenues of recourse.
How to avoid it:
Even though a low price may seem tempting, it isn’t always the best.Travellers looking for good prices should stay to the tried and true agencies.
"Bogus hotel sites"
Booking scams can also target travellers who are looking for the best deal on their trips. According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, over 15 million travellers fall victim to false booking websites every year, costing travellers - and the industry - millions of dollars.
How it works:
When it comes to online travel deals, many travellers will comparison shop between websites to get the best deal. When they find the best price for their accommodations, they have no problem booking it and trusting the site they are looking at. However, not all websites are equal. Some sites offer a great deal, just to have the deal not exist at the hotel.
This scam often targets those who are familiar with comparison shopping online, with the biggest target being those comparing via search engines. Scam artists will build convincing sites that are search-engine friendly, which look and respond like regular online travel agency websites.
However, in some situations, there is nothing powering these websites on the back end at all. Instead, a traveller is sending their credit card information and pre-paying for a hotel up front for no reservation, and nobody to go back to when their hotel reservations are not valid.
How to avoid it:
First and foremost, smart travellers are quick to ask questions about where they are booking online, including their reputation. Those who are concerned about the authenticity of their website should walk away, and use a trusted online travel agency. Even though it may cost more, the peace of mind that comes with a trusted online travel agency outweighs a great deal any day of the week.