Updated: Oct 5, 2019
By Ghost Rock Resident Writer Adair MacGregor
While the hospitality industry relies on customer loyalty and is committed to keeping you safe, there are always carefully crafted scams that those without a careful eye may fall prey to. Additionally, the need for hotels across America continues to increase, giving a wide array of choices that may or may not be perfectly legit. According to a study done by the American Hotel and Lodgings Association in 2018, fraudulent bookings cost citizens $3.9 billion per year. That’s no small piece of the pie.
Let’s pay attention. Here are five ways that guests (and hotels) are being conned out of a fair chunk of dough.
Front desk scam call
Here’s the scenario. You wake up in the middle of the night with a phone call from the front desk. The person on the other end sounds business-like and asks for a few details to finalize your hotel transaction. The charge, they say, is not going through and they need to confirm your credit card number and your card verification code in order to proceed. While it might seem obvious, guests assume that a call they receive from the front desk to their room during a stay is properly screened for their protection and might be easily duped.
How exactly does this happen? NBC ran a story relating to an incident at the Hilton in Seattle where the person in question was able to hack through the hotel’s switchboard in order to access rooms. While this is quite uncommon, it is possible to pull off in hotels that have not yet implemented digital security systems or perhaps with untrained staff who still use a switchboard-like system. .
How to avoid this: Tell whoever is calling you that you will only do transactions at the front desk itself. Ask for the representative’s names and inform them that you will ask for them at the front desk. And remember, it is very rare for hotel staff to call you before 9am or ask you for this kind of information over the phone.
When you are on the go, it is often critical that you have access to the internet.. While most modern accommodations provide Wi-Fi, it can often be difficult to negotiate passwords or find the proper network. Tons of free internet spots are setup all over large public areas in order to promote tourism or entice customers to enter their establishments.
However, not all these inviting networks are what they seem. Networks names, for example, are broadcast at the click of a button and can easily be masked under a hotel name.
Packets of data and links that are sent through the network are open and easy for the network owner to read. While specific types of masking technologies are becoming more prevalent, having your private information being put out to the public is alarming. Secondly, networks can manipulate the data stream in order to send you to sites that mimic well-known sites, such as Amazon.com, but are really phishing for your username and password.
How to avoid this: Make sure to ask for the correct network when entering a hotel or establishment. In most hotels, a password is required that is most likely linked to your room number in order to protect you and their network. If you’re using a computer, it may be best to pay the possible extra fee to link to your smartphone’s hotspot instead of relying on the unknown.
Fake hotel booking sites
An astonishing amount of fraud is generated by fake travel websites hoping to catch the traveler unawares. The same study by American Hotel and Lodgings Association found that a staggering 23% of consumers said they were misled by third-party re-sellers targeting travelers on the phone and online, leading to a gob-smacking loss of $5.2 billion from our pockets in 2017. The struggle is real.
What happens is that legitimate looking websites offer cheaper or discounted deals for similar rooms listed elsewhere. Travelers book the cheaper room not realizing that the listing belongs to a copycat site. Most customers are caught unaware until they arrive at the destination and are given cheaper rooms than the ones they found online or their reservation does not exist. According to Chad Schyvincht, area manager for Viceroy Hotels in San Francisco, third-party bookings cause the most problems and complaints during the check-in process. Worse than that, some of these websites not only skim off the top, they steal personal and credit card information. Forget showing up to a smaller room – cancelling credit cards and reversing a loss in credit scores can ruin any trip.
How to avoid this: While it may seem obvious to not book through an unknown web service, some of these websites can look the same as the ones your trust, save a small typo in the URL. It’s important to scrutinize the details, book through direct sources or use a travel agent.
Although hotels are often scammed with illegitimate credit cards and other scams in order to book a stay, the easiest one to commit is to steal loyalty points off regular customers. In luxury hotels, loyal customers can rake in an impressive amount of added freebies that may not be used for long periods of time. Not only are these often overlooked by the customer ,reward points are much easier to use as currency since they are less scrutinized than a platinum card or other forms of payment. Once login data is acquired through fraudulent methods, perpetrators can run automated scripts in order to access these redemptions and allocate points to purchase a night’s stay, a tab at the bar or gift cards for later use.
How to avoid this: If you are amassing a small fortune in points, it’s important to stay on top of it. Remember, if you travel often, these do translate into direct dollars. Additionally, hotels also need to keep track of exactly when and where these loyalty points are going in order to protect the consumer and maintain trust in guest relationships.
Fake delivery menus
Travelers are often pressed for time, are exhausted and will make concessions in order to alleviate logistical issues. For anyone who has traveled even a little, it is well known that acquiring food is something we often forget about or do not add into our schedule when in new places. Hotel restaurants and room services tend to be on the pricey side and cheap delivery options left next to your hotel bed can look astonishingly attractive in moments of desperation.
Here’s how it works. You order a tantalizing array of cheap options – a BLT sandwich, lasagna, smoked salmon salad and blueberry swirl cheesecake – and readily hand over your credit card details. Unfortunately, that blueberry swirl cheesecake, no matter how your stomach craves for it, does not exist. Nor, in fact, does the delivery worker or restaurant. While this may seem a lot less sophisticated than the previous scams, a fake delivery menu in a hotel room is an easy way to gain credit card information without customers really paying attention.
How to avoid this: Always google the restaurant or third-party delivery service. If the menu or restaurant exists in real life, it’s a safe chance the croutons you ordered on your salad do to. If anything, ask the front desk for delivery options in the area and if they can suggest a venue. If you suspect the menu left in your room is fake, report it to the front desk. It got there somehow and they have to investigate before the next guest falls prey.