Staying in a hotel soon? Be sure you don't fall victim to any of these scams!

Americans make some 15 million fake hotel bookings each year on phony sites, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA). That amounts to a loss of  $1.3 billion annually! A bipartisan bill called the Stop Online Booking Scams Act was introduced last month to crack down on scammers, particularly third-party booking sites that are not a part of the hotel they purport to be.

But it's still the Wild West out there today. So heed this advice to stay safe when booking a hotel and also when staying at one!

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Watch out for these scams

Know where you're booking

There are a variety of legit third-party players for online hotel booking (like Expedia and Kayak, just to name a few.) But you've got to be aware of the bad guys. Many are paid ads at the top of your search results page when you search for something like "hotel booking sites" or "affordable hotels." Two in particular to watch out for include  ReservationCounter and ReservationDesk, according to Yahoo Finance. Check the URLs closely to make sure you're booking where you think you're booking!  Better yet, consider booking directly with the hotel themselves, rather than through any third party. They may even match a deal you find on Expedia or Kayak.

The pizza flier scam

Picture this: You're tired after a day of sightseeing and you go back to your hotel room to crash out. Pretty soon hunger strikes and you eye that pizza flyer that was slipped under your door earlier in the day. You call the number and the nice person on the other end of the line gets your credit or debit card number and says your pizza will be delivered shortly.

An hour later, you're still waiting. So you call the pizza place back. The nice person on the phone apologizes and promises your pie is on the way. Two hours later, and still no pie! What happened? The nice people on the other end of the line were criminals! When they took your card number over the phone, they instantly started using your card number around the world as part of a criminal ring.

There's an easy workaround for you: Before you order a pizza, call down to the front desk to verify that the pizza leaflets are legit. Or better yet, ask them for recommendations about legit restaurants. You can always use your smartphone (or a computer) to visit Yelp.com, Kudzu.com or other local review services to check out the alleged restaurant.

By doing that, you solve the munchies and you avoid having to spend all night on the phone with your credit card company trying to shut down your account before the criminals spend more of your money!

 

Checkout scam

There's an ugly ongoing problem when you check in or out of a hotel. At the desk, you're always asked to give a form of payment like a credit card or a debit card so if you trash the room, they have something on you. But then a lot of people decide at checkout that they want to pay cash instead of plastic. So you settle up and they give you a receipt (hopefully) and you go.

The problem comes if there's a dishonest individual working behind the desk. They may still charge your room to your card *and* pocket the cash. If you later notice and have proof you paid cash, you call up and they say, "Sorry, it was a clerical error." But what if you didn't keep that receipt or they didn't give you one showing you paid cash? You lose.

The best answer is the form of payment you leave at the desk when you check in is the form of payment you pay with when you check out. Hotels are a fertile ground for identity theft rings and credit card theft rings. You have a situation where there is frequent turnover at hotels and weak background checks on employees. Plus, there are so many transactions happening and so much info being given by travelers. It all adds up to hotels becoming a new weak point in our nation's ability to stop identity theft and credit card theft.

And that brings us full circle to the dangers of debit cards. Because the hotel check-in desk has become such a weak link, never pay for a hotel room with a debit card.
If your number is compromised, using a debit card lays you wide open to having your entire checking account emptied. Then you have to fight with your bank to get your money restored. So for hotels, the only safe thing is to pay with a credit card!

Front desk calling scam

In this one, you check into a hotel, get up to your room and get a call from the front desk saying there's been a problem with your credit card. You're told the charge didn't go through and they need to confirm your number with you.

The only problem is it's not the front desk calling. It's a criminal who just dialed in and asked to be transferred to such-and-such room number. If you fall for the ploy, next thing you know there are fraudulent charges being pushed through on your card by the criminals.

If you get this call, tell the person you'll come back down to the front desk in a moment to discuss the credit card trouble. That way you can handle a legitimate request if it is one and you can also deny the criminals on the phone the info they want!

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Beware of hidden fees

Clark has talked a lot about hidden hotel fees over the years. Some of the more popular ones include:

  •     A $2/daily mandatory fee for receiving the morning newspaper unless you elect otherwise upon check-in.
  •     A $1.50/night safe fee that you were automatically charged upon check-in. Upon checkout, you had to say that you didn't use the room safe to get your money back.
  •     A $5.50/night mini-bar charge.
  •     A resort fee for local telephone calls!

These charges are all about trying to nickel and dime you in the hope that you won't notice.

Want more scam-avoiding advice? See our Scams & Ripoffs section

Image of Theo ThimouAbout the author: Theo Thimou

Theo is director of content for ClarkHoward.com. He has co-written 2 books with Clark Howard, including the #1 New York Times bestseller Clark Howard's Living Large in Lean Times. View More Articles

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