Three times in the past month, I’ve received a phone call from a young woman named Shannon. Her voice is inviting enough and her offer is a tempting one. The number is a 940 area code number and a 232 cell phone exchange prefix. The scammers are spoofing local caller ID’s, but the calls are originating offshore, according to the Better Business Bureau.

Shannon opens with a line so cheesy it should be wrapped plastic and served in slices.  “I’m sorry. I didn’t have my headset on just yet. Can you hear me now?” Your instinct is to say yes, of course. That is the wrong thing to say.

Shannon, you see, is a recording. Her only real purpose is to record you saying the word yes. Then, the scammers use your ‘verbal authorization’ to rope you into something that you probably aren’t going to like.

Shannon told me that because I’d stayed at one of their luxury resorts, I was now eligible for a wonderful vacation!  During call number two, I blurted out ‘So when exactly did I stay at this resort, because I never have.’ Shannon awkwardly replied ‘Well, that’s an interesting question’, then she hung up. How rude. Call three came in this week. I hung up and blurted out some words not fit for print.

Monica Horton, CEO of the Wichita Falls BBB chapter, says such phone scams are not uncommon. It’s just one of the ways scammers try to get to you financially.

Vacation Rental Scams

These scams typically crop up on online classified sites like Craigslist.com. The victim will search for an apartment or home for rent in a desirable destination and find an attractive rental at a very low price. The victim contacts the “renter” (who is in reality a scam artist) who then requests a “deposit” on the rental.

Usually, the scammer will request that you send them money via wire transfer. The victim arrives at the property she finds that it either does not exist, that the condition has been misrepresented, or that it was never available for rent. Efforts to get back the deposit fail. Scammers typically use images from a real property (often taken from real estate sites) to make their scams seem legitimate.

What are the dos and don’ts?

  • Don't be fooled by photography - use google earth and Street View to confirm the property you're renting actually exists at the address advertised.
  • Do run an online search of the names and phone numbers of the alleged landlord or agent and "chunks of the ads descriptive text to see whether it's been copied from elsewhere online.

Fraudulent Vacation Packages

The phone scam that was attempted on me is one variation of this, but not the only one. Victims see an advertisement for a deeply discounted vacation package at a luxurious resort or cruise. After the deposit is paid, the victim finds that the quality of the package has been grossly misrepresented or there are additional fees that must be paid at the destination to take advantage of the “great deal.” Efforts to get deposit money returned are generally unsuccessful.

If you purchase a vacation package:

  • Read your invoice. Confirm that it includes every cost, including fees. Take the time to understand the purpose and amount of each fee. Some common hidden fees may include things like International Departure and Arrival Taxes, Processing Fees, Peak Week Surcharges, Late Booking Fees, Departure City Surcharges, Travel Insurance and Fuel Surcharges.
  • Read the cancellation policies before sending any money, you should know how much you will lose if you need to cancel.

Free Vacation

There's no such thing as a 'free lunch'.  The same thing goes for vactions; one way or anotherYou might have been sent a postcard saying that you have won a free vacation or one of many other lesser prizes. Generally, you have to call a number to claim your prize. When you do, they offer to send information about the vacation package in the mail after you provide your credit card number so they can assess a “small service charge” at the time you accept the vacation. Although you are assured that you will be able to cancel the package before you are charged, they charge your account right away. The review period will already have expired by the time you receive your packet, if you are even sent one. Meanwhile, hundreds of dollars in service fees will hit your account.

The Pizza Delivery Scam

It’s not the world’s oldest scam, but it’s a classic.

Hotels across the US are warning guests to avoid ordering pizza delivery in the room from menus conveniently slipped under their doors. Place an order and they will require a credit card number for payment. So what's the scam? The phone number isn't connected to a restaurant but to identity thieves.

The BBB also offers these tips:

  • Don't be fooled by low cost or no cost vacation offers. They typically fail to disclose all related fees and have many restrictions.
  • Obtain all company information. Avoid travel offers received in the mail, over the phone, fax, email, or at a presentation that do not disclose the company's name, location, and contacts.
  • Don't rely solely on email correspondence.  Many rental scams are carried out by foreign scammers - so check the area code and try to talk by phone with the potential landlord, booking or listing agent or travel coordinator when possible.
  • Never pay upfront for any vacation package with a wire transfer or prepaid debit card.  Use a credit card of PayPal and negotiate paying only a deposit when possible.
  • Get everything in writing before providing any payment. If you attend a presentation for a timeshare or travel club, make sure all verbal promises are provided in writing. Review all terms and conditions carefully before making a decision.
  • Go to bbb.org to check out the business.
  • Read the fine print. Make sure you understand all terms and conditions of a travel offer as well as any cancellation and refund policies.

Don't let the scam slide.  Notify the police, utilize The BBB Scam Tracker, too.  And remember, 'robo calls' like the ones I've received are illegal, so be sure to visit the Do Not Call registry as well.