A video warning travelers of a costly and “dangerous” hotel scam went viral on TikTok this week.
The dupe focuses on a family who were allegedly cheated out of over $6,500 (CAD $6,000) when they ordered room service from a fake hotel menu, unknowingly sharing their card details debit with a criminal.
“Turns out the room service menu they actually ordered from was shoved under the door,” Toronto-based TikTok user Ali Koca concludes in the video.
Although many online critics poked holes in Koca’s footage, which is light on detail and appears to use stock footage, the cautionary clip has garnered over 1.9 million views.
Australians lose $2 billion a year to scams, and online scams in particular have exploded across the world during the COVID-19 pandemic as consumers spend more online and hackers profit from the confusion new COVID protocols.
But hotel scams are more likely to happen before you even arrive at a property.
UK bank Lloyds recently issued an urgent scam warning to Britons following a spike in holiday booking fraud leading up to the Northern Hemisphere summer, which saw travel scams rise by 33 % and hotel scam reports by 18% since last year.
Pete Murray, managing director of Veritas Technologies, ANZ ransomware data backup and resiliency company, said that, as with the UK, he expects to see such scam cases increase in Australia as it approaches. of summer.
“During the holiday season in 2022, we expect to see an increase in scammers sending emails claiming to be from hoteliers and travel agencies directing vacationers to fake COVID check sites that are there to steal their information and infect their computers,” he said.
COMMON HOTEL SCAMS
Murray said that with most Australian travelers now booking and paying for holidays online, they are seeing an increase in scams targeting travellers.
“Scams often seek to obtain personal information such as birthdays, bank details or other valuable confidential data. Unfortunately, many of these details are required when booking flights and hotels, which makes travel industry a prime target for data breaches,” Murray said.
Some of the most common scams include fake hotel reservation confirmations, follow-up emails and fake hotel sales offers.
“Millions upon millions of guest details have been stolen from international hotel chains over the past five years and hackers are already able to use them to send emails claiming to be from hotel companies,” noted Murray.
“We are also seeing new fraudulent tactics, such as fake shops advertising hotel accommodations via social media.”
Global COVID protocols, such as COVID testing and proof of vaccination, are also being manipulated by hackers to target hotel guests.
“Hackers can use ignorance of these processes to trick vacationers into sharing personal data and downloading dangerous malware, such as ransomware, onto their devices,” Murray said.
Adam Glezer, owner of independent advocacy firm Consumer Champion, says booking hotels through third-party online travel agencies can also be risky.
“The main problem is that you have to navigate between two sets of terms and conditions: the hotel and the booking website,” says Glezer.
Consumer Champion also cited a recent court ruling in which online travel agency Trivago was fined $44.7 million for misleading Australian consumers into believing they had the best accommodation rates.
“Trivago was telling Australians that they had the best hotel deals, when most of the time they were promoting hotels that pay the most per click,” Glezer said.
“If you book direct, the chances of encountering problems are greatly reduced. There is no guarantee that the third party company will be completely transparent and will really offer you the best rate.”
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) advises contacting your bank or financial institution if you have lost money to a scam; they may be able to find where the money was sent, block fraudulent accounts, and help others avoid sending money to scammers.
- Adopt good cyber hygiene habits, including: making sure the site is secure before payment, checking that the URL has a small padlock visible in the search bar before providing your personal information, and making sure that the URL starts with “https//” (with an ‘s’ for ‘secure’).
- Complete a verification checklist that includes: checking the website URL, hovering over all email links to make sure it leads where you expect before clicking, and verifying the validity of any request for payment.
- Australian banks are also encouraging customers to use secure payment tools, such as BPay and PayID, which can show customers who they are paying before paying and reduce the risk of scams.