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Travel Fraud on the Rise

The Better Business Bureau in the United States reports the travel industry consistently ranks among the top 25 businesses that the watchdog group monitors for fraud. With the peak summer travel season now in full swing in North America, experts are warning consumers to be on the lookout for travel scams. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.

This summer, millions of Americans will hit the roads and airports in search of their dream vacation. But if you are not careful that dream vacation could turn into a nightmare.

Richard Blumenthal, the attorney general for the state of Connecticut, says travel fraud costs Americans an estimated $12 billion a year. "Very often the damage we find is not only lost money but also dashed hopes and expectations -- ruined times together as families."

The most popular scams involve bargain-priced package deals that require hefty down payments. Some throw in the airfare for free but forget to mention that a hotel room upgrade could cost them six times more.

Sally Hurme, with consumer protection group AARP, says buyer beware, "If somebody is saying that they have a fantastic offer but it's only good for today, this is a sure sign that it's a bad deal."

Hurme says if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. She tells travelers to ask a lot of questions and to never send money until they have all the details in writing. She also warns consumers to be careful when giving away business cards. "One of the things you definitely don't want to do is to drop your business cards into one of those fish bowls for a drawing for a free trip. This is really just an effort to harvest your name and address so that you will get additional mailings that you definitely don't want. Those drawings in the mall for that 'fantastic trip' is pretty much guaranteed to be a scam."

To be safe, travel experts advise travelers to book through a trusted agent and never pay by cash or check. They also warn consumers not to give out credit card numbers over the phone unless its to a familiar person or company.

Blumenthal says to be suspicious of unsolicited offers. "Consumers should be wary of all offers, unsolicited, and simply check on recommendations. Get a second opinion and read the fine print." He adds, "If you think you have fallen victim to a travel scam -- call the authorities."