Close the door on hotel booking scams

“It is no fun when the traveler shows up at the hotel and is told he or she has no reservation!” Spare yourself an angry guest or a “bad” review! Train staff to encourage guests to shop smart, pay attention to detail, keep their guard up, and double check URL’s for misleading booking sites. The Hill, Mary E. Power, guides travelers to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) for more information.

 

 

I love hotels! One of my fondest childhood memories is accompanying my father, a small town doctor, to medical conferences for his continuing education credits. My brother and I probably drove hotel employees crazy as we explored around, but hotels seemed like such fascinating and exciting places to me. Thanks in large part to these happy memories, I majored in hospitality business management in college and began my career working for two different hotel chains.

Some years later, I find myself at the helm of the Better Business Bureau. Among the many services we provide are Business Reviews that help consumers decide which companies to do business with. We also warn people about bad business practices and illegal scams. Unfortunately, many of those relate to the travel and hospitality industries.

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Consumers have come to rely on technology to make their life easier, and that’s especially true when coordinating travel arrangements. At bbb.org, you can find BBB Business Reviews on more than 60,000 hotels, resorts, motels and other properties. Last year consumers turned to us nearly 400,000 times to check on hotels. Increasingly, online travel booking services have become a key resource for consumers, and we track over 600 of those, as well.
A growing problem is rogue booking sites that mislead and confuse customers trying to make hotel reservations. Online travel bookings are a leading indicator of consumers’ confidence in e-commerce transactions – and this scam is eroding that confidence. It’s not a small problem. The American Hotel & Lodging Association estimates that 2.5 million bookings a year are misleading. That translates into more than $220 million in bad bookings.

The scariest part of this scam is that it doesn’t find you; you find it. Most scammers approach you by email, robocalls or even knocking on your front door. But those who get scammed by rogue booking sites usually began with an online search for their choice hotel. Up pops a link that looks just like the hotel’s website. These rogue sites can mirror the design, logos and photos of real companies, and they dupe users into thinking they are doing business directly with the hotel. The URL may include the hotel’s name. Some sites even include a “call now” button staffed by call center employees who have a whole script to hide the fact that they aren’t actually with the hotel of choice. Far too many consumers end up booking through a third-party site without knowing it.

Deceived consumers often show up at a hotel or resort and find they don’t have the right accommodations or they can’t get their reward points. Worse, some people show up and find out the hotel doesn’t even have a reservation for them!

Even the savviest travelers have fallen for scams like this. These bad players are extremely skilled in the art of deceiving unsuspecting consumers. People who may not be skilled at online transactions, or are more comfortable talking to a “real person,” a deceptive call center button may seem like an attractive way to make a booking. Little do these travelers know they aren’t talking to the hotel at all.

Smart phones have compounded the problem. Smaller screen sizes mask phony sites, making it more difficult to identify details that aren’t quite right, like a phony URL or toll-free number that look like the hotel’s direct reservation desk but are really from a third party.

As consumer complaints mount, these practices are not going unnoticed. Recently, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice have been hearing from Members of Congress and state legislators who want the FTC to open an investigation. Better Business Bureau works closely with the FTC on numerous issues. We send our complaint data into their Consumer Sentinel tracking system; we refer to their consumer education materials; and we assist in investigations. We think the FTC is the right agency to look into these hotel booking scams and rogue websites, and we will do what we can to assist them.

BBB was founded on the truth-in-advertising platform and it’s been core to our mission for more than a century. Consumers want and deserve clear, transparent communication when they are transacting online, and the entities that engage in deceptive practices should be held accountable.

No one should have reservations about making reservations online. No one wants headaches and harms when simply trying to book and enjoy a vacation and no one should have to be a detective in order to avoid getting scammed. Check out hotels, booking sites and millions of other businesses at bbb.org before you buy.

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