AMHERST, N.Y. (WKBW) — The clock is ticking down, and over the next few weeks, many families will be trying to take one last vacation trip before the kids head back to school.
Scammers are using some new tricks to steal your vacation money and ruin your travel plans.
The Better Business Bureau of Upstate NY (BBB) is warning people that imposters are now posing online as Expedia.com customer service representatives.
Several victims in 17 states and Canada have reported the scam which has stolen $10,000.
According to BBB spokesperson Melanie McGovern, the victims used internet search engines to find a phone number for Expedia.com customer service.
Scammers have been able to fool the search engines into showing the imposter phone numbers.
When people called the fake Expedia number, the scammers offered to make the customer's travel change - but they take financial information and pressure the caller into purchasing gift cards with the threat that, if they don't comply, their travel plans will be cancelled.
One victim reported losing $3,700 because of fears the travel plans would be cancelled out - which they weren't.
Being pressured to buy gift cards and share codes is a big red-flag for a scam, explained McGovern.
While there are many online sites available to help people plan/book their own trips, Angela Wawrzynek, travel manager for the AAA of Western & Central NY, warns you need to read the fine print.
"You could really find out after you made the purchase that you can't make any changes and nothing can be done. You really could be stuck with something that you were not aware that you were getting," cautioned Wawrzynek.
The AAA also warns people to use caution when seeing online ads and emails for huge travel savings - those can be fronts for scammers.
"If it looks too good to be true, then it is probably too good to be true," added Wawrzynek.
READ THE BBB PRESS RELEASE ON THE SCAM BELOW:
After several Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker reports, BBB is working with Expedia group to issue a warning about a network of scammers is using Expedia Group’s name to take consumers for thousands of dollars. Some consumers lost as much as $3,700.
The scam starts when consumers search online, then call customer service numbers purporting to be Expedia. Customers ask the representative to confirm or change existing reservations they’ve made through the Expedia travel site. But instead of legitimate Expedia reps, they are calling phone numbers used by impostors. The impostors say their refund site isn’t working properly and the consumer needs to purchase gift cards to receive a refund or change bookings.
Consumers reporting this scam are from 17 different states and Canada, and report losing nearly $10,000 total. One woman told BBB that the scammer kept telling her to, “purchase (additional) gift cards saying that he had to merge the cards together,” but not to worry as she, “was going to be well reimbursed.” Several customers say the fake customer service rep stayed with them on their cell phones while they purchased the gift cards.
That’s what happened when BBB contacted one of the phony numbers and listened as the impostor tried to convince us we needed to buy gift cards, giving us a convoluted explanation of how we would get a refund.
Expedia is a BBB Accredited Business with an A+ rating [u7061146.ct.sendgrid.net]. In a statement, the Bellevue, Washington-based company said, “We are happy to team up with the BBB to educate people about this scam and share tips on how they can protect themselves.”
Expedia Group’s statement continues, “Our goal is always to ensure travelers have a seamless and trouble-free booking experience with us, and it’s incredibly unfortunate that scammers have disrupted our customers’ well-deserved vacations and travel plans. Rest assured that we are also working hard to identify ways to prevent this from happening in the future.”
Expedia Group is taking steps to counteract these impostors, including working with popular search engines to reduce the occurrence of fake ads, making its customer service contact number more visible, and adding info about these scams to its customer service portal.
BBB offers the following tips for consumers to protect themselves:
- Most trustworthy companies will never demand a gift card as any form of payment and consumers should never have to pay to get money back.
- Using a search engine does not guarantee that you will get the correct number. Always go directly to a website to find contact information. Large companies often have a ‘Contact Us’ button or a help hotline number directly on their webpage.
- Protect personal information. Be cautious when connecting to public WiFi and never use it for online banking or entering personal or financial information.