The Twelve Frauds of Christmas – Holiday Fraud

Robin J. Pugh

Have you ever received an email with a too-good-to-be-true vacation offer?  You’re right to be skeptical, but holiday or travel-related fraud is a much bigger category than just those “bargain travel” offers.  Americans reported almost 54,000 incidents of travel-related fraud to the FTC in 2021, costing over $95 million.  

You’ve won an AMAZING LUXURY vacation!

If you receive an email stating that you’ve won a vacation, but you don’t recall actually entering a contest, take a moment to pause.  Typically, you’ll find that once you read the fine print, there are taxes and fees that will make the vacation you’ve “won” anything but free.  

Check the details.

When you book a package vacation, and the travel company doesn’t share specifics on the “luxury resort” or “five-star hotel”, ask for more information and get the details in writing before you book.  Oftentimes, when you arrive at the destination, you’ll find that the accommodations are more like “flea motel” than luxury resort, and that vacation that you thought was a huge bargain has now cost way more than it was worth.

Privately-owned Vacation Rentals

Fraudsters regularly post vacation properties on sites like VRBO and AirBNB and other direct-to-consumer websites.  Take a moment to thoroughly research before you book a property.  Just because it has traveler reviews doesn’t necessarily mean it’s legitimate.  Reviews can be faked or purchased, so read them thoroughly.  Does the review narrative make sense in relation to the property it’s reviewing?  Does it say “ocean view” when the property is located in the mountains?  Do several of the reviews use identical language?  Also, take a moment to look up the address on a map site like Google Maps and make sure it exists.  If the property is located in a condo facility, call the property management company and verify the status.  Make sure the site you’re booking through is a reputable booking engine and has clearly stated payment protection policies.

Both AirBnB and Vrbo say to “stay and pay on platform.”  There are many scams that involve luring the guest “off platform” such as saying that there is a problem with the property booked, but they have another option that is not on AirBnB’s platform, or that for some reason they can only accept payment by wire transfer or cashier’s check. As soon as you leave the platform, you have assumed responsibility for any fraudulent activity that happens from that point forward.


Cyber criminals will stand up websites that look nearly identical to legitimate ones, so make sure when you visit the booking site for your favorite travel search engine or your favorite resort, that you’re typing the URL in the browser and validating that you’ve arrived at the legitimate site.  Clicking on links from search results or links from email advertisements can lead you to a lookalike site that will result in some major travel disappointment.  

Not only do scammers mimic legitimate travel booking sites, they also create fake sites for travel documents like visas and international driving credentials.  Many times, you can inadvertently end up on a site that will harvest your personal information, take your money and not give you the protection or credentials you were seeking.  

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