Booking a vacation for the first time in a while? 3 tips to avoiding online travel scams after COVID

You’re fully vaccinated and you feel good to travel. It’s a big moment — the moment you’ve waited for throughout the entire pandemic. In your excitement, you check your email and stumble across a deal that looks too good to be true. But hey, the travel industry is looking to make money after barely anyone went on vacation last year, right? It’s probably not that weird.

So you book it.

The next day you get a call from your bank — your checking account has been wiped clean and your credit card maxed out. How could this be? You behave pretty responsibly when it comes to online security. But then, you remember the travel deal. You go back to the email offer only to find the link you clicked on was actually a phishing site designed to trick you into sharing your banking information and other personal data.

That one click led to your identity being stolen. Now, you’re out of cash, your life is upended and your dream trip isn’t real.

Even in the post-pandemic world, the deal really was too good to be true.

Not a matter of if, but when

The above scenario is an unfortunate reality many consumers could face when they book travel in the coming months.

Bad actors will ramp up online attacks as more people book vacations for the first time during the pandemic. Given how hard travel industry businesses have been hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be harder than ever to tell the difference between a legitimate business lowering prices to attract customers and a cyber-attacker.

There’s no downplaying just how bad a financial loss and stolen identity can be. With stolen identity credentials, bad actors can create new accounts in your name and try to break into your other accounts — likely for the rest of your life.

The bottom line: Bad actors are patiently watching and waiting to attack travel bookers. And if you’re making vacation plans online any time soon, you need to be on guard for potential cyberattacks.

What to do to avoid scams

The idea of having your identity stolen through an online travel scam is alarming. But if you practice safe habits, look for potential signs of fraudulent activity and remain vigilant, you can lower your chances of falling victim to a travel scam. Here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind as you book online:

1. Assume everything could be compromised

Online scammers are highly motivated and will play with all of your emotions — whether it’s greed, curiosity, urgency or fear of missing out — to get you to click on that “great” deal. As you check your email or look at websites for potential deals, be mindful of how you engage with content online. Take the approach that all ads, emails and even phone calls could be subject to social engineering using available information about you online.

2. Independently verify the offer

You can independently verify if a travel deal is real by searching for the company online to see if it’s legitimate. Additionally, search the email address that sent you the extremely low price flight offer to ensure it’s associated with the company that sent it. Don’t engage with phone calls from numbers you haven’t saved or don’t recognize — let them go to voicemail.

3. Don’t rush into anything

It’s understandable why you may want to jump at the first great deal you see. But guess what? Scammers know this and will use that sense of urgency to steal your identity. They will clone ads from real companies that send you to a typo squatted website — a website URL that looks correct at first glance but has a slight typo (e.g., bookiп vs. Many of these sites also use secure HTTPS connections to appear safe and legitimate. The bad actors will then push you to pay before a sale ends, pleading for you to help out a struggling business. Look for these cues if you click through on an ad and remain skeptical. After all, what’s the rush? You waited over a year, a few more days won’t hurt you. Resisting your urge to click could mean a safe identity and a full bank account.

No trip is worth losing your identity

For many people, the first trip they take in the coming weeks or months will be their first sense of true normalcy in over a year. The rollout of vaccines and reduced COVID restrictions has given all of us a sense of hope for getaways and adventures. But this progress will also open up opportunities for scammers to take advantage of that hope for their own gain.

In the end, the best approach may be to avoid clicking ads and email offers altogether. But if you do happen to click through on that great deal — real or not — remember to assume the worst, check for legitimacy, and don’t rush.

You’ve waited the entire pandemic to take that vacation. What are a few extra minutes to step back, determine whether something is the real deal and keep your identity safe?

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