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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

BBB Tip of the Week: Shady Travel Agencies Scam Schools, Students, and Parents

By Tyler Russell BBB Northwest

School trips can be incredible, life-changing experiences for students. But don’t let scamsters steal the magic of such experiences. Because trips like this also provide opportunities for the unscrupulous to steal thousands of dollars from teachers, children and their parents. Better Business Bureau Northwest and Pacific warns event organizers and parents alike to be on alert for shady travel deals.

How the Scam Works

A travel agency approaches a school or is referred by a well-intentioned (but misled) individual. At first, everything might seem normal. The agency looks legitimate, with a professional staff and a website. The trip prices appear reasonable, and the agency encourages students to host fundraisers to pay for their trips.

However, as the trip gets closer, important details change. The school or parents may be asked to front money the travel agency was supposed to pay for plane tickets, hotels, and excursions. Scammers often promise the money will be returned later, and they push for immediate payment. In one scam report on BBB Scam Tracker, the con artist told parents: “If you don’t front the money, the kids won’t be able to take this trip they’ve been planning for months!”

In the end, scammers get away with the money fronted for the trip. No one is the wiser until students show up, bags packed, only to find out their flights or hotel reservations never actually existed. When parents try to get in touch with the travel agency, they agency doesn’t respond or has simply disappeared.

Protect Yourself from Travel Scams

    Look out for red flags. If you are contacted by a travel agency unsolicited, be wary. Trips that seem too good to be true or are “free” are probably scams.

    Do your research. When considering hiring a company, investigate them thoroughly before giving them any money or sensitive information. Check out, travel sites, and online parent forums. In addition, research the trip’s destination and activities. The more you know, the less likely you are to fall victim to a scam.

    Pay attention to detail. When making a purchase or signing a contract, read all the fine print. Ask about additional fees and make sure to have all the details in writing. Verify reservations by calling the hotel or airline directly. Print out all reservation confirmations and keep them with you as your group travels.

    Pay with a credit card. When making a payment, always use a credit card, which offers more protection by allowing the cardholder to dispute fraudulent charges, if necessary. Be especially wary if the travel agent asks you to pay by wire transfer, prepaid debit card, or other unusual forms of payment.

If you’ve been the victim of a travel scam, report your experience on help others stay informed and alert.