We’ve all heard the stories – seniors scammed by telemarketers offering travel deals, or victimized by high-pressure salespersons. Travel scammers are out there, and they seem to have seniors in their sights. Why?
According to the U. S. National Council on Aging, travel scams target seniors because seniors are believed to have money in the bank – and money is what the scammers want.
A typical travel scam offers you a great deal on a trip, membership in a travel club that is supposed to give its members huge discounts or, particularly in mail scams, “free” travel.
The catch? In order to get the free or discounted travel, you have to pay a certain amount up front. If you are reluctant, a salesperson may attempt to cajole, shame or even threaten you into buying. Once the scammers have your money, they disappear, and you are left with nothing.
The U. S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agrees. Seniors tend to have good credit ratings and own their own homes. In addition, they are often reluctant to hang up on telemarketers, either out of politeness or because they believe telemarketers are honest and hard-working.
Seniors are also less likely to report scammers to local or national authorities. This may be because they are ashamed of falling victim to a crook or because they worry that admitting they were defrauded will cause their relatives to take away their financial or physical independence.
There are several ways you can protect yourself from travel scams.
Don’t allow yourself to be pressured into buying, signing or paying for anything. Ask to see everything in writing. Contact the Better Business Bureau to see if the company or person trying to sell or give you travel services has been reported by other consumers.
Do an Internet search on both the company name and the salesperson’s name. Walk away from any deal that looks shady or seems too good to be true.
Don’t give travel scammers an opportunity to talk with you. Teach yourself to say, “No, thank you,” and hang up the telephone or walk away. If necessary, practice with a friend. If you get several telemarketing calls per day, get Caller ID/Calling Line Identification and use it.
Don’t answer the telephone unless you know who is calling. Anyone with something important to say will leave a voice mail. In addition, put yourself on the National Do Not Call Registry/Telephone Preference Service.
Screen your mail in the same way. Postcards offering free trips or huge travel discounts are usually sent by scammers. Throw these cards away.
Never give out any financial information to someone you do not know, particularly over the telephone. This includes credit card information, bank account numbers, your Social Security number, your birthday and your debit card number. You should never have to pay a fee or tax to claim a prize.
When you do decide to travel, pay by credit card, as there are more consumer protections in place for people who pay by credit card.
Scam Detector is a free smartphone app that helps people identify various types of scams. The Scam Detector website is just as useful as the app. As of this writing, the Scam Detector website lists 138 types of travel scams, from those discussed in this article to pickpocketing ruses used in a variety of countries.
“Let the buyer beware” is excellent advice. If something, particularly a travel opportunity, looks too good to be true, it probably is. Do some research and review documents and contracts before joining a travel club or paying for a discounted trip.
Have you heard about any senior scams related to travel? Please share your information in the comments below.