Consumer Alert: Beware of Travel Scams

a row of seats on an airplane

If you haven’t been the victim of online fraud, you’re either very savvy or very lucky.

Online fraud increased by 8.9 percent in 2016. That’s across all product categories. In apparel, the crime rate increased an eye-popping 69.9 percent. And food-and-beverage scams were up 49.8 percent.

For travel, however, the online crime rate was down, by a full 33 percent.

The data are from the latest Global Fraud Attack Index, compiled by Forter, a fraud-prevention company, in conjunction with the Merchant Risk Council.

Forter attributes the overall rise in online fraud in part to the increasingly widespread adoption of EMV chip cards, which has made offline fraud more difficult and forced would-be miscreants to redirect their efforts to Internet crime.

Know Thy Seller

Even with the decrease, there’s still plenty of travel fraud to be wary of. So, what should travelers look out for?

According to Michael Reitblat, CEO of Forter, the two most prevalent types of travel scam are shady merchants selling tickets purchased with stolen credit card credentials, and fake travel websites created to steal travel consumers’ financial and personal information.

In the first case, buyers of the fraudulently acquired tickets are likely to find themselves turned away at the airport, or worse, when it’s discovered that the form of payment was illegitimate. And in the second case, travelers not only receive no tickets, they have their identities stolen as well.

While not nearly as prevalent, Reitblat cited a growing and particularly heartbreaking trend in travel fraud. Travel scammers, playing on the increase in refugees from war-torn countries like Syria, have targeted those desperate to escape the violence, selling them cheap air tickets that are either counterfeit or fraudulently acquired. In the end, they’re left with no money, no tickets, and possibly facing criminal charges as well.

The stories are a reminder that caution remains the order of the day when chasing low prices, and an argument for doing business directly with travel suppliers or with established online travel agencies like Expedia and Orbitz. When purchasing travel, in other words, do so from a trusted seller.

Reader Reality Check

Have you ever been the victim of a travel scam?

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and almost that long writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

This article first appeared on, where Tim is Editor-at-Large.