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Fake hotel booking sites can leave travelers out in the cold

Metro Creative

Searching for the best deal online can drive people crazy. But a recent scam shows consumers shouldn’t get too carried away with a deal too good to be true.

The AAA is warning of a scam as people make plans for the Labor Day weekend. Scammers have been making fake third-party hotel booking sites that appear legitimate but then take your money and leave you without a reservation. The American Hotel and Lodging Association estimates hotel booking scams cost consumers more than $220 million each year.

The Sedgwick County Consumer Protection Division and the Kansas Restaurant and Hospitality Association said they had not heard of the scam in Kansas.

But Valerie Vinyard, a spokesperson for AAA in Arizona, who wrote a warning about the scam for AAA, said the lack of reports in Kansas doesn’t mean residents haven’t already fallen victim.

“People who get scammed, first of all, don’t know who to contact and they feel cheated or ripped off,” she said. In addition, she said, “there’s a level of embarrassment. People don’t want to admit they’ve been fooled.”

She said the scam has been widespread across the country. Her advice, she said, is to call the hotel directly to confirm a reservation.

“There are people that create sites that look completely legitimate but they’re not,” Vinyard said.

She said consumers who use the sites will think they made a reservation for their hotel and arrive to find out the hotel has no record of them.

She also said it’s best to book hotels with a credit card because it’s easier to get the money back than from a debit card.

“You don’t want to assume anything with third-party reservations,” she said.

To report a scam to the Sedgwick County Consumer Protection Division, call 316-660-3653.

Reach Gabriella Dunn at 316-268-6400 or gdunn@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @gabriella_dunn.

Tips to avoid hotel booking scams

▪  Research the company: Book with reputable companies whose names you recognize.

▪  Use credit cards: It’s harder to dispute charges on debit cards because the money is immediately removed.

▪  Read carefully: Comb through the fine print for cancellation and revision policies.

▪  Verify reservations: When you book a flight or hotel, call the hotel or airline directly to confirm the reservation.

Source: AAA Highroads

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