Avoid Vacation Blues - BBB - Scam Alert - July 2007

By Mayo McDonough

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The Better Business Bureau of Vancouver Island (BBB) and the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Authority (BPCPA) have joined forces to help consumers avoid vacation fraud and make informed choices when booking their holidays.

Consumers across North America lose over $10 billion each year to vacation fraud. Out of the 3,900 industries the BBB monitors, the travel industry consistently ranks near or in the top 25 for number of complaints. It is one of the BPCPA's top three areas of inquiries.

While many legitimate businesses exist, consumers should make sure they aren't swindled. Travel related vacation scams may include:

- Telemarketers promise a dream vacation and then steal personal or credit card information for identity theft

- Timeshare operators trick consumers into lengthy high-pressure sales seminars

- Vacation operators employ bait-and-switch tactics that lure consumers into paying more for a vacation than originally planned

Protect yourself. Always do your homework before sharing personal information or booking travel. Know who you're doing business with. Only use a reputable, reliable travel service provider. Travel agents and wholesalers located in B.C. must be licensed.

Be aware. Consider the following tips when making travel arrangements:

1. Look before you book. Use a licensed B.C. Travel Agent. (Visit www.bpcpa.ca to search for licensees)

2. Don't be fooled by professional-looking websites, e-mails or telemarketers. Few legitimate businesses can afford to give away products and services of real value or substantially undercut other companies' prices. (Visit www.bbbvi.ca to check out a company's Reliability Report.)

3. Get the details of any vacation package in writing, including refund and cancellation policies and check the fine print for all the terms and conditions.

4. Request a copy of your travel services contract and keep all receipts.

5. Review all documentation and check with your travel provider prior to departure for any changes. Be aware of identification and other documents you may require on your trip.

6. Pay with a credit card and avoid deals that require you to book 60 days in advance. Credit card companies may allow consumers to dispute a charge within 60 days of purchase.

7. Consider your travel insurance needs, and find out what is covered through your house insurance or credit card benefits. Shop around.

8. If you do not receive the travel services you purchased and are unable to obtain compensation through your travel insurance, credit card, or via other sources, you may be eligible to receive compensation through B.C.'s Travel Assurance Fund.

Knowing your rights and responsibilities before you travel can help you avoid losses due to unforeseen circumstances. And remember, if an offer is too good to be true, it probably is!

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