Avoiding Holiday and Travel related Scams


If you are a regular contributor or reader of travel forums you will see that many people fall victim to travel scams. With some of these con-tricks you not only run the risk of not getting what you've paid for, but may also end up having your details sold on to other unscrupulous companies in what the industry term 'sucker lists' that are used for spam emails and telemarketing.

Note: TravelChimps.com like many sites, including major international companies and quality newspapers such as The Telegraph, host ads from Google. Most advertisers are genuine companies, but dubious sites may also pay for advertising. Websites do not control the selection of these ads for their pages. Google automatically chooses advertisements that match with words on the website page - so it is possible you will see advertisements on this page for the very scams mentioned below. Treat the sites you visit through advertisements with the same caution as any other unknown site.

Some of the scams below relate to particular countries; however similar tricks affect travellers of all nationalities.

EHIC Website Scam

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) enables EU citizens to get free or reduced cost medical treatment within the European Economic Area and Switzerland. British and Irish Citizens resident in the UK or Ireland can order one for free. Do not pay for your EHIC.

Websites listed by Google offer an online service to get your EHIC in 7 days. All they do (if you're lucky) is supposedly "check" and forward your information to the Government site and charge you a fee. They cannot provide a faster service than ordering online through the official Government website.

TIP 1: use these pages to order your free EHIC: British Irish
TIP 2: UK Government websites providing official information on travel documents such as passport, International Driving Permit and EHIC always end with "gov.uk".

Tourist Visa/ESTA Website Scams

You may need a visa for your holiday e.g. EU citizens will need a visa for many non EU countries, or an ESTA, to visit the US under their visa waiver program.

The Visa application process is quite simple for most tourists; but there are some countries where application can be complex for an independent traveller, and paying for services may be appropriate. However, many websites offering tourist visa/ESTA services do no more than provide information available on official sites or merely "forward" your application.

A search for "ESTA" on Google produced a first page mainly made up of companies charging for an ESTA; the top (sponsored) link charged $45. Since these companies are offering a service of dubious benefit it is reasonable to assume that even some of those operating within the law may sell your email and address details on. Others may not do anything but take your money and sell on all your details including Credit Card number.

TIP 3: The ESTA is currently* free and the US embassy warns against using scam sites appearing on page one of Google. Some of these even warn you to look out for fraudulent sites! This is the official ESTA registration site.
TIP 4: Investigate visa arrangements on the appropriate Foreign Embassy website before parting with any money. Use the Embassy Locator on our Travel Tools page to find the web address.
TIP 5: Check the relevant official sites first e.g. US Government sites end in ".gov" and Australian ".gov.au".

*An ESTA registration charge of $14 will be introduced on 8 Sep 2010.

The pay your bill in your own currency scam

When paying by credit or debit card whilst abroad you may be asked if you would like to pay in your own currrency. This makes more money for the hotel, restaurant etc. If you do agree a hefty exchange rate over which you have no control will be applied to your card.

TIP 6: if you do use a card it is normally best to pay in the local currency (normally Visa and Mastercard provide the best exchange rate you can get)

The Compensation email

These emails claim to come from an official source, state you may be entitled to compensation and request personal details.  Their purpose is to obtain information for credit card and bank account fraud or identity theft.

An example in July 2010 was one falsely claiming to be from the Civil Aviation Authority asking passengers who had their holidays disrupted by volcanic ash, for personal information including passport details.

TIP 7: never respond to emails and provide personal information.

The Job Offer and Work Permit Fraud

Often targeted at active job searchers by email. Offers a lucrative job abroad but requires a payment for them arrange the work permit or other incidentals. See this U.S. advisory for more information.

The Fake Ticket or Travel Site

Fly-by-night sites that take your money for Disney Tickets, Concerts, Festivals, and package holidays are common all over the world. This page helps you check for warning signs of a web-site's trustworthieness.

last updated 24 Jan 2011 | Author Andy W+