Most people have probably gone online to book a hotel stay, and the American Hotel & Lodging Association says there are 480 online hotel bookings per minute. Sometimes it’s on a travel comparison site, while other times a room might be booked directly at a hotel’s website.
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The Federal Trade Commission warns consumers to be careful when booking directly with a hotel’s website, because some consumers have unknowingly been doing business with a scammer or rogue vendor instead.
The hotel association says there are 2.5 million bookings a year by illicit vendors. That translates to more than $220 million going to bad bookings. It’s no fun when the traveler shows up at the hotel and is told he or she has no reservation. The FTC says the confusion has resulted in problems like:
- Arriving and finding no reservation
- Having trouble canceling or modifying a reservation, or disputing charges through the hotel
- Finding reserved rooms didn’t reflect special requests like disability access
- Being charged undisclosed fees
- Paying a higher rate than what’s advertised by the hotel
- Getting credit card charges from the third party, not the hotel
- Not earning points with their hotel reward program
It can be hard to tell that you’re not on the hotel’s site. You might see a hotel’s name in the URL, or call the number shown next to the hotel’s address and not realize it’s the reservation company — not the hotel — you’re talking to, the FTC advises.
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Your best bet to avoid surprises is to look closely at your search results. If you know you want to deal directly with a hotel, take the time to look for signs you might be on a third-party site, like another company’s logo. It’s also a good idea to find the hotel phone number yourself, rather than rely on what’s listed on the site.
Here’s info from the Better Business Bureau about how to spot a fake website:
Don’t believe what you see: The site may have the logo or design of a legitimate hotel or booking site, but that can be easily copied from the real website.
Look out for fake contact info: Some consumers report calling the 1-800 number posted on a scam hotel booking site to confirm its legitimacy. Scammers simply impersonated the front desk of the hotel.
Double check the URLs: Scammers pick URLs that look very similar to those of legitimate sites. Always be sure to double check the URL before making a purchase. Be wary of sites that have the brand name as a subdomain of another URL (i.e. brandname.scamwebsite.com), part of a longer URL (i.e. companynamebooking.com) or use an unconventional top level domain (brandwebsite.net or brandwebsite.co).
Look for a secure connection: Make sure your personal information is being transmitted securely by ensuring the web address starts with “HTTPS” and has a lock icon.
Watch for too-good-to-be-true deals: Be sure to comparison shop and be suspicious of a site that has prices significantly lower than those listed elsewhere.
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