Holiday cheats – how to spot them

Your mother was right again. In fact, she was right twice. One, nothing in life is free and two, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

One of the biggest and long-lasting scams so far is vacation scam, where you or a loved one is said to have won a free vacation package or a glamorous cruise trip. Unless they are completely "free," these "agents" say they can take you on a dream tour for the lowest price. At this point, you, like many law-abiding citizens, begin to think "what could possibly go wrong?" A lot, obviously.

Let's start with the obvious: you won't get a free vacation. Of course, there are rare packages from reputable travel agencies, which may be free, but they err on the side of caution. The most common travel and vacation scams include the following:

Fraudulent Travel Agency Fraud – You are called and told you are getting a free vacation package, but you must pay "fees" to book this option. Then, once you pay these fees, the "travel agency" can no longer be found. Their telephone line is broken and there is no way you can get your money back. Another variation of this scam tells you that you were booked on a luxury vacation trip very acutely, but this is only for a "limited time". You will then be asked to pay a "booking fee" immediately (which is usually a large amount) to secure your slot. It is only after the payment that the "travel agent" tells you that your vacation dates are not available or after a while it will tell you that the offer is "expired". Then the "Agent" also disappears, along with your money.

Free Airfare – Here, they call you and say you have won two airfare to great places like the Bahamas. What they don't say is that you have to book your hotel and buy food from the ticket company. If you stop and do the math before accepting this "free ticket" offer, you can easily calculate that the amount of food and accommodation easily covers the cost of the plane ticket because the prices have been so high.

Free Vacation – You fly all the way to Hawaii or Mexico, ready to start your vacation, but find that you are booked in a small and dirty hostel with bad food. If you leave, they say you canceled your return ticket. So you can stay in your bad hotel or pay a terribly high fee to get out of it so you can sleep in a decent hotel.

Time-sharing scam – you are given a free vacation, but before you enjoy it, you need to go through a presentation from a temporary seller. Sometimes you are not even told the compulsory lecture for temporary use before you reach your destination. Often, in order to get food and lodging tickets, people are forced to attend long lectures and are eventually forced to sign contracts that are also fraudulent. In some cases, when vacationers try to escape, they are subjected to harassment and other unscrupulous tactics by these sales agents.

Fraud Become a Travel Agent – Someone tells you that it is better to be a travel agent because it saves you a lot of money in the long run. As a travel agent, they say, you get a lot of discounts and free while on vacation. The trick is that you have to pay them a "fee" to become an instant travel agent and when you become one you realize that you cannot benefit from the discounts as your authority is not recognized by any travel authority.

Holiday Fraud Cards – You pay for a vacation card thinking it will make your vacation a little cheaper, but then you realize that the card has so many restrictions that you can't get the discounts you are entitled to. OR, if you get a discount, it just goes off the "special price" and again comes down to the same price everyone else pays.

Protect yourself from these travel scams by following your gut instinct and being skeptical. Don't be afraid to say no and assert yourself when these "agents" become persistent. Never give your credit card number over the phone for the sake of booking in your slot. If you are given a deadline, say you should think about it; hurrying is usually a sign of fraud. Before you pick up the package, walk the distance – check the hotel, airline, etc. – and make sure they work with this promotion for the prices the agent says they are. Buy tickets and packages only from real agencies and personally, if possible and remember, offers from phone calls or spam e-mail are more likely to be fraudulent.