What you need to know: Protect yourself from fake vacation sites

RALEIGH, NC (WNCN) — As we head into a more normal summer, many of us are eager to take the vacations we didn’t have last year, but scammers are waiting to turn your ideal holiday in nightmare.

Fake vacation sites proliferate this time of year because criminals are taking advantage of the fact that many want to get away from it all, and they will target us with what seem like bargains at ridiculously low prices. “They are creative, sophisticated and very persistent,” said Cybersecurity expert Adam Levin.

Among the most common travel scams according to Federal Trade Commission are:

  • Vacation rentals that don’t exist
  • A free vacation that contains hidden fees
  • Fake travel insurance policies

If you are looking for a vacation package or property, stick with what you know.

“Go to well-trafficked, well-monitored sites whenever you rent properties,” Levin said.

Fake vacation sites are a huge problem. The Better Business Bureau says he found nearly half of all rental property listings were fake with more than 5 million people losing money to vacation rental scams since 2020.

It says the average victim lost $3,200 to travel scams last year.

Scammers will use the Internet, as well as cold calls and even text messages to trick you.

“They want to tease you into using them to arrange your trip and then trick you into entering your credit card details,” Levin said. “They will then call you to confirm your personal information, so they get a double iron.”

Scammers often steal photos of real vacation homes from the internet and repost them under fake addresses.

Levin says there are ways to find out if the photo is posted by the real owner of the property, but you have to do some research.

“There are public records that will show who owns the property,” he said.

You can access these records online.

You can also perform a reverse image search of the vacation rental photo and search for duplicates online.

“If it’s showing up under different addresses as opposed to the same address, you’re in trouble,” Levin said. “It’s one of those things to worry about, so stay away.”

Since scammers also create similar vacation websites, make sure the URL contains these elements: a padlock icon and an “S” at the end of HTTP. These indicate that it is a secure website with an SSL certificate.

Another danger is unsolicited holiday offers via the Internet.

“If someone asks you to click on a link or open an attachment, don’t,” he said.

These links can open your devices to malware or theft of all your personal information.

Another thing to do is check online reviews.

If someone has been scammed, they’ll probably shout about it in an online notice, warning you to stay away from that property or website.