The holiday travel season is upon us once again. Time to pack those bags, gather the children, and head to the relatives’ house for a big Thanksgiving dinner or presents under the tree. Perhaps you just want to avoid the snow and harsh weather by escaping to a warm romantic getaway with a special person. Whatever your winter travel plans may be, all consumers need to be on the lookout for con artists trying to take advantage of the increased demand for airline and hotel reservations in the coming months. Today we discuss several of the most common travel scams you’re likely to encounter.

Avoid Wire Transfers

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One of the big travel scams to be on look out for this holiday season is the wire transfer request. It would go like this – you’re searching for travel reservations somewhere and you stumble across a website offering unreal discounts to your destination of choice. You select one and proceed to checkout, only to find that this particular site only accepts direct wire transfers. If you encounter this scenario, leave immediately – there are no deals to be had here, only a nefarious con man looking to steal your money.

Keep in mind that legitimate websites with honest intentions generally accept credit cards. Wire transfers are much harder to reverse (charge back) than a credit card charge, which is why they are the payment method of choice for scammers. In addition, giving out your bank details over the Internet can open you up to identity theft and could result in a drained bank account.

“You’re a Winner” Scams

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The “You’re a Winner” scam has permeated through almost every conceivable online product, including electronics, event tickets, and now travel. These con men differ in their delivery of the scam, but in one way or another the victim ends up with an email (or other notification) informing them they have been selected to win a free stay at a hotel or resort in some exotic location.

Excited, the victim hurriedly attempts to claim their prize and is told that all they need to do is book their airfare. The catch is that you can only claim this “prize” if you reserve an extremely expensive flight through a special partner agency. Suddenly, the “free vacation” you had hoped for turns into a $2,000+ expense. If you’re approached by scam artists of this kind, search elsewhere – you’ll always pay more for the “free” package.  Here’s an example reported on Sitejabber from YourTravelHeadquarters.com.

Taking Advantage Of Disasters

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Remember the immortal words of former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” This is the mentality behind some travel scam artists who seek to rip off those caught in disasters during their vacation. CBS reports that in April 2009, a volcanic eruption in Iceland left thousands of travelers stranded. These unfortunate travelers eventually got home, only to be targeted by the next big scam.

Contacted by a group who called themselves the “Civil Aviation Safety Authority,” the travelers were told that they were entitled to compensation for their distress. All that was required was to submit their passport and credit card information so that the trip could be verified, and payment could be sent. Unfortunately, it was soon revealed that there is no such group as the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, and those who fell for the scam were ripped off for their identities.

Sporting Event Scams

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Every year around this time, America gathers together to watch a national spectacle – football. With Superbowl 2011 in the not-so-distant-future, fans need to be on the lookout for popular sporting event related travel scams. Often times, victims will receive an email informing them that they can reserve discount travel arrangements to the big game by ordering well in advance. Eager to see the big game up close and in person, many jump at the opportunity without thinking about what might be really going on.

The Better Business Bureau issued the following warning to football fans – “Consumers need to be very careful with any online ticket or travel purchase because scammers may try to capitalize on the high demand.” Hotel packages including game tickets may be incredibly inflated to account for the tickets, while the room falls far below desired standards. Other packages disguise themselves as “Superbowl packages,” but come only with room reservations in the town the game is held in while tickets are left up to you to find.

Travel Clubs

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Finally, consumers need to be wary of membership-only travel clubs that charge for membership. At first, it might seem like a good deal when you see island vacation packages at huge discounts, but there is a hustle built into the membership system that turn the wonderful deals you see into big financial losses.

Generally, these sorts of communities charge big bucks for membership – so much, in fact, that it can completely eclipse the supposed “discounts” you were supposed to receive by being a member. CBS reports that these fees can run up for $9,000 for a lifetime membership. Any savings you realize on trips thereafter is only absorbed into that hulking registration fee, and the average traveler comes away from the deal having saved no real money by being a member.