Summer’s almost here! You can feel it in the air. As it gets warmer and warmer your mind starts wandering through all the exotic places you’d like to visit. Maybe you can’t visit them all at once, but you can take them one by one and escape the urban jungle, if only for a few days at a time.
With the internet at your fingertips never has it been so easy to plan a memorable vacation. Customize it to your liking and oh, to that restraining budget! Now, looking for vacation offers on the internet is just the first step. Booking cheap flights and accommodation is next in line, closely followed by finding ways to optimize your time. But are all these steps safe to take in the online world? Ever heard of online travel-related scams? Well, if you let your vacation spirit take over your rational side, you might just let cybercrooks ruin your vacation plans. How can you avoid that?
Here are the 6 online security rules you may want to follow if you’re planning your holiday online:
- 1. Beware of too good to be true offers. Cybercrooks may pose as travel agency and post fake offers on travel-related or daily deal sites, luring you to pay for services you’ll never receive.
Tips: if you see a smashing travel-related offer – either for plane tickets or accommodation –, check it’s validity with the entity offering the accommodation or the airline company. Also, use common sense. If the offer is too good to be true, it probably is!
- 2. Watch out for unsolicited travel-related e-mails. Cybercrooks may get hold of your e-mail address from social network accounts, online forums or any other website you have an account with – that, of course, if you share these details with the world – and send you e-mails seemingly from reputable travel agencies. They usually advertise cool offers and direct you to phishing sites.
Tips: Don’t make public your personal details. Ignore too good to be true offers coming out of the blue – or, if interested, don’t click on the link they provide in the e-mail; just look up the offer using a search engine. Learn more about phishing and how to protect yourself against it.
- 3. Do proper research before booking flights or accommodation. If there are no cool daily travel offers at the time you want to do your bookings, decide what kind of accommodation you want – hotel, hostel, bed and breakfast, maybe home/apartment rental? – and start browsing the web. Be very careful with sites featuring classified advertisements, such as Craiglist, and with sites featuring vacation home rentals, like HomeAway. These offer a wealth of scamming opportunities to cybercrooks who want to take advantage of you. They might even post photos of someone else’s home who doesn’t offer rental services, and trick you into paying for renting the place; once you get there, however, you’re faced with the real owner who says their home is not for rent. Other crooks may direct you to fake sites where you have to enter personal details, as part of phishing scams.
Tips: browse for offers only on reputable sites of airline companies and accommodation aggregators. Look for and read their Terms and Conditions, Privacy Policies and FAQ/ Security section carefully, to know what to expect. Found a nice place to stay? Look for reviews from other travellers. Most reputable booking sites have travellers’ reviews.
- 4. Don’t ever pay by wire transfer. Most travel-related scams involve payments by instant money transfer services such as Western Union or Money Gram, because crooks can easily get away with the money. If, say, you’ve found a nice-looking apartment you want to rent but the “landlord” requires wire transfer only, you might be facing a rental scam.
Tips: pay for travel services by credit card. If, reputable third-party payment services like PayPal are allowed, use them – they ensure a secure payment, without having to disclose your credit card details. Be careful though and avoid the security risks they pose.
- 5. Don’t overshare your enthusiasm on social networks. You’ve booked your vacation to a cool destination. Or maybe you’re about to leave on an adventurous journey. You’re super excited and you want to share your excitement with your friends. Stop! Think! Do you personally know everybody in your list of Facebook friends? If your profile is public, things get worse: thieves might get hold of the information you post, find out when you’re out of town and break into your home.
Tips: Make sure your profile is private, and your personal posts can be seen only by close friends; delete your home address, telephone number and even your e-mail address from your social network profiles; don’t post the exact dates of your departure and arrival or that you’re packing your bags to go on vacation. Be very vague about the whole thing.
- 6. Use travel-related mobile apps thoughtfully. You’ve finally reached your destination. You can’t wait to feel its vibe and pulse. You want to download a street map and walking tours to your smartphone, to help you explore the place properly. Maybe even check-in from cool sites, so that your friends can see where you are? Wait! Are all these mobile perks safe? Some travel-related apps might be infected with malware, while checking in from foreign places might be a heads-up for cyberstalkers and thieves.
Tips: Go over to rule #5. Download apps only from reputable app stores and check out the reviews from other users beforehand. Use geo-location services carefully – do not check in while on vacation, and disable the geo-tagging feature on your smartphone, so that if you do post a photo online, it’s not marked with the exact location and the date it was taken.
Ever fallen victim to a travel-related scam? What other advice would you give folks out there who want to plan their vacation over the internet?