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ACG-CYBER SECURITY BULLETIN NO 138 UNDERSTANDING THE RISK OF ONLINE TRAVEL VACATION SCAM

The following information was obtained from different cyber security sources for notification to all parties concerned pursuant to the mandate of the Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group (PNP ACG).

The information provided was classified as “Restricted” pursuant to the PNP Regulation 200-012 on Document Security and Impact Rating as high based on PNP Information Communication Technology (ICT) Security Manual s.2010-01 p. 22 and p.129.

SUMMARY

Online travel scam is a scheme for making money by deceptive, dishonest or fraudulent means.  Victims are told by e-mail that they have won a free or incredibly cheap trip.  However, these trips often have hidden costs.  Tours that are advertised as free may not include air fare to the departure point or hotel accommodation.  The recipient of the “free trip” is required to make these extra reservations through a specific company.  In these instances, the costs are much higher than market price.

Vacation home rentals are a fun and often affordable, alternative to hotels, air fare and tourist destination, but they are also less regulated and more prone to scams. Crooks have come up with plenty of schemes to make a quick buck off of oblivious vacationers using nice photos of non-existent rentals and up-front cash security deposits. That’s why it’s important you know how to spot fraudulent listings online.

Most common travel scams out there, along with the travel club membership rip-offs. It happens especially when hot destinations are on everybody's mind. Cyber criminals create great looking websites for "new" travel agencies offering amazing deals.

Have you ever been tempted by an online ad for a vacation that seems outrageously cheap? This is possibly an online travel scam. You might find that the hotel accommodation and air travel you paid for were not booked after all.

The scammers use travel pictures stolen from the Internet to promote their destinations.  They create fake travel agencies for a month at a time, get hundreds of avid tourists who pay on the spot and then close down the "business".

Websites are created in such a high quality that is really hard to differentiate a real business than a fake one. Tricksters then proceed to buy a bunch of Google AdWords or Facebook ads and close deals on spot. After a month of work 'in', they collect, shuts down the website, and create a new one. And the show goes on.

In a different variation of the scam, criminals create duplicate websites of real travel agencies.  They use legitimate logos and offer amazing travel deals, luring the victims into filling out an application with their personal information, including credit card numbers which are charged right away.

Before booking the next holiday vacation, search on-line for the name of the provider and for several reviews.  If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.  Use recommendations from your friends or visit a local travel agency.

If you choose the online option, rely only on reputable companies that have great feedback for their good deals.   Also, ask top travel influencers if they have any feedback on the company you have doubts about.

RECOMMENDATION

 The public are advised to follow these tips to avoid being a victim of online travel vacation scam, to wit:

  • Make sure to read all the terms and conditions; avoid all such offers that require hidden fees or taxes;
  • Go directly to the official website of the hotel, airline, or rental car agency to book your reservations. It should have “HTTPS” in the URL. If you’re not sure you’re on a real site, call the company to verify;
  • If you decide to use a third-party site, choose a well-known and reputable brand; and
  • Use a credit card instead of a debit card to book online. In case the website is phony, you won’t have given the cybercriminals direct access to your bank account. Many credit card companies offer fraud protection.

For additional information, please refer to the following websites:

  • https://definitions.uslegal.com/t/travel-scam/;
  • https://www.scam-detector.com/article/fake-travel-agency;
  • https://www.scamalert.sg/types-of-scams/online-travel-vacation-scam/post/post/61-cheap-deal-for-mbs-turns-out-to-be-a-scam; and
  • https://www.scamalert.sg/types-of-scams/online-travel-vacation-scam

POINT OF CONTACT

            Please contact PCINSP ANGELICA STARLIGHT L. RIVERA, Chief, Personnel Records Management Section thru e-mail address This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or contact us on telephone number (632) 7230401 local 3562 for any inquiries related to this CYBER SECURITY BULLETIN.