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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Watch Out for Vacation Scams

LAS CRUCES -- As New Mexicans make plans for fall and winter vacations, free or low-cost vacation offers that sound too good to be true probably are. A New Mexico State University consumer education specialist warns that the Federal Trade Commission reports that unsuspecting consumers regularly fall for such offers.

"Thousands of dollars are lost each year by consumers trying to take advantage of fraudulent vacation bargains," said Susan Wright with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service

Vacation scams usually work in the same way, she said. The consumer receives a postcard, phone call or e-mail message offering a free vacation. A reply is requested to claim the vacation, or the "company" will be in contact in the near future. When the contact comes, the "free" offer has changed to a very low-priced vacation, but a credit card number is needed right away for verification or to lock-in the current low price.

"If you give your credit card number, you will probably never hear from them again. But you may see charges on your credit card bill that you did not make," Wright said. "You might plan the trip only to be told later that your hotel is not available and you will have to 'upgrade' for an additional fee or that your round-trip ticket is free, but you must purchase a ticket for your companion -- at a higher than regular price."

Consumers should be sure to ask questions to protect themselves from vacation scams. Find out exactly what is covered in the price, such as airfare, hotel, meals and how many people are included. Also see if the price is final, or if there will be additional charges, she advised.

The vacation may only be available on a certain schedule, and not at convenient times for the winner. Also, arrangements may only be available from a certain airport.

Find out the name, address and phone number of the hotel, then check it in a travel guide, Wright advised.

"Ask the company to put the offer in writing, and if they are reluctant, ask why. It also may be a good idea to ask for time to think about the offer," she said.

Most of the time, companies making vacation offers want an immediate response and will not put the offers in writing. "Remember, you cannot prove what someone told you on the telephone, so you must have it in writing," Wright said.

Consumers who have already been caught in a vacation scam are advised to write their credit card company as soon the bill is received and dispute the charge. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, the travel company is required to "deliver the service as agreed," Wright said. Any complaints must be filed within 60 days after receiving the bill. Meanwhile, try to resolve the dispute with the travel company.

Call the Consumer Services Advocate at the New Mexico Attorney General's Office at 1- 800-300-2020 for help, she said. Local law enforcement and the Better Business Bureau office, if there is one in your community, should be notified as well.