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Avoid Summer Travel Scams

After a year being homebound, Americans are ready to venture out of pandemic isolation and take to the skies and the roads. Now, after being vaccinated they are heading for long-awaited vacations and reunions with family and friends.  Sadly, they are whetting the appetite of a class of scam artists who target travelers, says Lois Greisman, director of the Federal Trade Commission's Division of Marketing Practices.

Here's how experts say you can avoid five current travel scams.

1. Free or rock-bottom deals
Phone calls, emails and postcards with enticing travel offers look tempting, but a deal that's way under the value of a trip — like five nights in a hotel plus airfare to Maui for $200 — means it's probably a scam, says Amy Nofziger, AARP anti-fraud expert.

Avoid this scam: Simply walk away from any deal that seems too good to be true. And if a company asks you to pay with a prepaid gift card instead of a credit card or debit card, it's a scam, Nofziger says. Always work with a trusted travel agency or company that has a long, proven history of offering travel opportunities, she says.

2. Rental-car cons
Several travelers alerted AARP this spring to fake rental-car-company scams. Crooks set up phony customer service numbers online that look just like those of major rental-car companies. When you call, they take your money and personal information, then leave you stranded.

Avoid this scam: Before you call or click to reserve a car, verify that you're calling the real customer service department, or that you're on a legitimate rental-car-company website.

3. Third-party websites for TSA PreCheck and Global Entry programs
Look-alike websites are popping up that claim to help you renew or enroll in the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) PreCheck or the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Global Entry program that speed you through airport security for a fee. But these sites are actually trying to con you out of money and personal information.

Avoid this scam: Travelers interested in enrolling in or renewing TSA PreCheck should start the process by going to the official government website,

4. Disappearing vacation rentals 
Scammers capitalize on the popularity of vacation properties rented out on legit sites like Airbnb and Vrbo (Vacation Rentals by Owner) by offering online or via social media properties that don't exist, don't belong to them or don't measure up to the gorgeous photos.

Avoid this scam: Keep all of your interactions with a vacation property's owners on the website of legitimate companies. A request to take your conversation off the site is a sign of a likely scam. If a property has few reviews or seems too good to be true, search the address online, or check it on Google Maps.

5. Airport and hotel Wi-Fi hacks
Connecting to public Wi-Fi gives savvy hackers easy access to your personal information.

Avoid this scam: Use your smartphone's hot spot to connect to the internet more securely. Or invest in a virtual private network (VPN), a service that encrypts your data to keep unscrupulous hackers from stealing sensitive information online. A VPN costs about $30 to $100 per year.

To view a quick video from the AARP Fraud Watch Network on how to avoid travel scams, click here.

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