Criminals target people on the move—and more of us are, now that pandemic restrictions have lifted in many parts of the world.
Marlene Ruiz, Fraud Management
Michelle Maratto, Cyber Advisory
This summer, the number of people on the road or in the sky, traveling to take a vacation, may reach pre-pandemic levels in some countries. And, once again, fraudsters will be ready to pounce on the security gaps of all those who are on the move.
If you are planning a leisure trip now, soon or (frankly) ever, we strongly advise you to take some simple precautions to protect yourself from vacation scams.
Let’s make sure your travel experience is one for you and your family to remember—for the right reasons.
After more than two years of pandemic, The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), representative of the global Travel & Tourism sector, says its economic modeling projects a strong rebound for U.S. travel in 2022. Indeed, the Council says the sector could contribute almost USD2 trillion to the U.S. GDP and may even exceed pre-pandemic levels by 6.2%.
Fraudsters prey whenever people leave the relative safety of their homes and familiar haunts. And they are impacting people across the globe. In the U.S. alone, victims lost a total of $79 million to vacation and travel scams in 2021, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. And that’s when travel was down from pre-COVID-19 levels.
You don’t have to be a statistic. As you plan your getaway and pack your bags, keep this basic maxim in mind: Fraudsters may impersonate legitimate organizations in an attempt to trick you into sending money to them, instead of to your intended recipient.
To thwart criminals, take these precautions with:
Criminals may impersonate travel agencies and legitimate property owners by creating fake websites and posting minimal details and pictures of properties online. Typically, they say they cannot accept credit card payments for reservations and require the individual to wire cash instead. Best practices for cybersecurity and fraud prevention are a must.
1. Only do business with trusted travel and vacation-home rental services.
2. Only communicate and send funds through a reputable site’s secure online payment and messaging systems.
3. Never simply click on an email link and then enter payment information. Always validate payment instructions by telephoning—on a telephone number you know—the person or company who you intend to pay.
4. When making payments, use credit cards for added security.
5. Enable alerts for your online financial accounts so you will receive automatic notifications of account activity and be better able to spot unauthorized payments.
6. Consider enabling multifactor authentication (MFA) for your online accounts to help block unauthorized access to your accounts.
In public areas such as airports, hotels and restaurants, stay aware of your surroundings. Can strangers see information you are viewing on, or typing into, your device? Can they overhear what you saying to someone else? Might they glean your passwords and account information that way?
7. Consider using a privacy screen on your device to restrict opportunities for others to capture information from your screen.
8. Consider traveling with your devices enclosed in a Faraday bag; these protect your data and information by blocking EMF radiation so no radio waves, WIFI, Bluetooth or other wireless technology can gain access to your device.
9. To protect your passport and other forms of identification, consider carrying them in an RFID wallet or sleeve, which is lined with a special material that blocks your card’s radio frequency from transmitting, making them unreadable until removed from the wallet or sleeve.
Front Desk Scam
Criminals may call your room late in the evening pretending to be from the front desk at the hotel where you are staying. A typical scam is for the fraudsters to say there’s a problem with your payment method; they may even threaten your eviction from the premises as they try to trick you into quickly sharing your credit card details to resolve the issue.
10. Never provide payment details over a phone to alleged hotel staff; visit the front desk in person to resolve any alleged payment issues.
Criminals may create fake websites to lure you into paying for activities in advance—only to find when you arrive at the destination that no reservation exists.
11. Book your activities through the hotel, or with known, reputable organizations.
12. When making payments, use credit cards for added security.
Criminals hunt for potential victims on social media platforms where many people, especially the young, post details of their vacation plans. Don’t reveal when your family will be away (when it might be easier to break into your home). Or when you’ll be on the road and potentially easier to scam.
13. Do not (nor let anyone in your family) post your intended travel plans, itinerary or location updates prior to or even during your trip.
14. If you decide to post, do not tag your location to protect your personal safety.
15. Be wary of “family scams” where criminals make frantic phone calls claiming a loved one who’s elsewhere needs your help—and money. Contact your loved ones directly before reacting or sending funds.
We can help
If you believe you or a member of your family may have been a victim of fraud, call your J.P. Morgan team immediately.