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How to Spot Common Travel Scams

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The lure of free or discounted travel is a powerful one. Many people are willing to agree to almost anything in order to win a free flight or a free hotel stay - but often, the reward is only an illusion. Here's how to identify and avoid three common travel scams.

Travel club scams

The travel club promised free cruises just for sitting through a 90-minute sales presentation. After the presentation, participants were told they had to pay a fee of several hundred dollars to collect the free cruise - and several thousand dollars more if they wanted to join the club and enjoy discounted vacations. The catch? There was no free cruise, and the club was fake. A New Jersey couple collected millions through this travel club scam, until in August 2013 the couple pleaded guilty to theft by deception, according to an account in the Star-Ledger.

How can you avoid travel club scams like this one? Don't sign up for any such vacation club, experts say. The deals offered are usually no better than what you can find through legitimate travel websites.

Timeshare travel scams

Some travelers enjoy getting freebies from timeshare companies. In exchange for sitting through a sales presentation, you can get discounted resort stays or free excursions. Intrepid travelers who want to try this must be able to resist tough sales tactics, however.

While most timeshare offers are legitimate, timeshare scams abound. If the prize for sitting through the presentation sounds extravagant - a free cruise, for instance - it's most likely a scam. Another common travel scam targets timeshare owners, promising them they can sell their share quickly if they pay an agency a fee. Once the fee's paid, the sale never happens.

How can you avoid timeshare scams? If you're genuinely interested in buying a timeshare, make sure the company is a legitimate, well-known brand such as Starwood Vacation Network or Hilton Grand Vacations. Never agree to any transaction with someone who calls you out of the blue.

Stranded traveler scams

This pernicious travel scam targets not you, but your friends and relatives. Some scammers search Facebook and other social media sites for people announcing they're traveling on vacation. The scammer then breaks into the person's account and sends out a message that says he or she has been stranded abroad and needs emergency funds right away. Scammers also use phishing emails, which appear to be from legitimate companies, to hack contact lists and send out a similar "please help" message. It's not hard to find out when you've been targeted for this travel scam - you'll immediately get calls and emails from concerned friends.

How can you avoid the "stranded traveler" scam? Don't tell the world you're traveling - wait to share your photos until you get back. And use more than ordinary caution when you're clicking on emails that ask for personal information.

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