Fraudulent Travel Sites Are Scamming Customers Out Of Hundreds Of Dollars
By Kelsey Marie
Summer is almost coming to an end which means you may want to get one last vacation in. There are many factors to consider when booking your travel plans and it’s important to be extra careful when booking flights online.
There are now websites scamming people out of hundreds of dollars by pretending to be well-known airlines such as Delta.
A young family from Michigan recently faced this scam and almost lost $300 because of it. They were trying to re-book a flight to Japan on what appeared to be a Delta Air Lines website.
Naomi Poel and her husband Hunter Pulaski had planned on taking their 2-year-old daughter, Holley Poel to Japan to visit family. They were at their relatives’ house (close to the airport) when they received an alert that their flight that day, (scheduled at 10:15 a.m.) would be delayed.
Naomi told USA TODAY in a phone interview: “We’re traveling with a 2-year-old, so we were panicking.” They were worried about the delay because they had a connecting flight they would now possibly miss. They began to think of scenarios such as what if their 2-year-old ended up in a row by herself — this led to them Googling for a solution. A site implying they were connected to Delta was the first thing that came up in their online search.
Laura Blankenship, director of marketing for the Better Bureau Servicing Eastern Michigan tells USA TODAY: “You have to be very careful when clicking online advertisements. It’s very easy for a scammer to impersonate a legitimate business. Instead of clicking the link, go to the business directly to purchase tickets.”
It’s advised to take time to research the site you’re booking on before giving them any of your personal information or payments.
Troy Baker, manager of communications for the Better Business Bureau Serving Western Michigan says: “Unfortunately, doing a Google search is not always going to get you a good result.”
Baker says the site initially looked legit because the first words on the site said: “We at Delta Air Lines.” He did say there were some major red flags such as a picture of an airplane being shown on the site with no Delta logo. Also, the wording on the bottom of the “About Us” section used lyrics from “The Brady Bunch” and “Laverne and Shirley” TV theme songs. They even went so far as to add: “That’s the way we became the Brady Bunch.”
Yes, the wording definitely screams ‘scam’ but someone in a rush can easily just scroll past it. Celebrities have even fallen victim to this scam. For example, actor James McAvoy said he was almost scammed out of about $13,000 in October 2018 when he was planning a family vacation to Spain. He thought he was booking accommodations at the Ritz-Carlton but the website ended up being fake.
To avoid being scammed, you should do the following:
- Take your time and read the fine print
- Do not give payment without proper research
- Always pay with a credit card because it gives more protection against being scammed
- Do not trust travel agents or websites that demand you to pay using gift cards
According to the International Air Transport Association, “fraud is rapidly increasing in the travel industry and the chance you may land on a fake airline or travel agent website is unfortunately real.”
Delta gave an online statement saying: “Any time you deal with a third party website claiming to represent Delta Air Lines, you risk compromising your personal information, as scammers are more frequently attempting to abuse the trust you place in us by impersonating Delta using illegitimate websites and outlets before defrauding you.”
Naomi Poel tells USA TODAY that she found the site because it popped up at the top of a Google search.
She recalls: “We still thought we were dealing with Delta. So we were super angry with Delta.” She went to the airport and headed straight to the Delta desk when they were informed the site had been fraudulent.
Naomi and her family ended up getting their money back but many travelers aren’t so lucky.
Kelsey-Marie is an NYC girl who currently lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.