Don't Get Catfished by Travel Scammers

by  Maryrose Mullen | Feb 19, 2013
Woman in airport
Woman in airport / VladTeodor/iStock

Maybe your Valentine’s Day wasn’t as spectacular as you hoped it would be (then again, when does it ever live up to expectations?), but just before you throw out your mostly-dead roses, an email pops into your mailbox. It’s a message from Delta Airlines, confirming your flight to Aruba for next week. You don’t recall booking a trip, when it occurs to you – it must be a belated gift from your sweetheart! How romantic! Well, maybe not.

Getting hoodwinked by a travel scam is easier than you think. An email that alleges it's from Delta Airlines has been making the rounds, containing specific flight information and asking readers to download a PDF file of their tickets. The PDF is a Trojan horse used to get you to install destructive software onto your computer, or access your personal or financial information. A similar scheme went around Facebook last month, when an offer claimed users could win two free tickets from Southwest Airlines simply for entering your email address. While veteran travelers won’t bat an eye at such tomfoolery, less experienced passengers may not know any better. So, we’ve put together a few tips to help novice fliers recognize when they’re being swindled.

Make Sure You (or Someone Else) Booked a Trip
Okay, this one is pretty obvious. But every so often, you may do some late-night, half-conscious online shopping and forget you bought something, only remembering the purchase when a package arrives a week later. Maybe you did that with a flight to Copenhagen? More likely, you might think a generous friend, relative, or significant other purchased the trip for you. Call up the usual suspects (if you have friends who regularly buy you plane tickets, that is) to see if their credit cards have been charged.

Check for Specifics
While some messages might seem legit, there are a few red flags that can immediately 'out' a scam. Does the message include your credit card number? What about the date of departure? Does it even say what airport you’re flying out of? Are you referred to by name, or as a “valued customer?” Most significantly, what email address did the message come from? The email is the scam’s biggest giveaway; most major airlines have their name in company email addresses. An address lacking the carrier’s name – or containing a subtly misspelled version of it – is probably a dummy account.

Go to the Source
Many scam emails and Facebook mailings will include a bogus flight number. To travel neophytes, though, such a number could be nothing more than a confusing jumble of numbers and letters. Further, newbie flyers may not realize how ridiculously off-the-mark the destination’s listed price is from the norm. Go to the airlines website and look up similar flights to the one you “booked.” Compare the prices, and if your message includes a departure time, check to see if the carrier even offers flights at such a time.

Call a Customer Service Representative
If everything has checked out as a scam, but you still want to be absolutely sure, ring up the airline’s customer service department. A rep will be able to tell you if your credit card has been charged, if such a flight exists, and they can also warn you if similar scams have been circulating. After you’ve been in touch with a real live human being, you can breathe a sigh of relief and confidently hit “delete.”

If, after all our tips, you still fall for travel scams, give me your email address...I can get you a great deal on a flight to Tahiti.

Up next...

10 Travelers Who Annoy My Family

Baby on plane
Find The Best Cruises
Find a cruise

Find the best deals!

Click on multiple sites to get the lowest prices

Click on multiple sites to get the lowest prices