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Vacation is no time to abandon financial caution

By By Claudia Buck

The Sacramento Bee (MCT)

Published: Monday, Aug. 12 2013 12:55 p.m. MDT

Whether traveling for business or pleasure, no one wants to worry about being scammed or exposed to identity theft.

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Don’t leave home without it: your financial security.

Whether traveling for business or pleasure, no one wants to worry about being scammed or exposed to identity theft.

But traveling — when we’re so focused on work or so relaxed that we let our guard down — makes us an easy target for identity thieves and scam artists.

“The truth is, when you’re on a business trip or on vacation, you’re distracted. You’re either thinking about the deal or the swimming pool,” said Adam Levin, co-founder and chairman of Identity Theft 911, in Scottsdale, Ariz.

And scammers know that. “They’re counting on the fact that you are not thinking about this stuff,” said Levin. “It’s the moments of distraction that are the moments of vulnerability, which is when they’ll strike.”

From phony Wi-Fi hot spots to “free vacation” come-ons, here’s a rundown of some of the most common vacation-time scams.

WAKE-UP CALL

You’re dead asleep in the middle of the night and someone who says they’re from the hotel front desk calls, asking to verify your credit card information. Groggy and without thinking, you recite it, including the expiration and security code number. Bingo, you’ve just landed in the hands of scammers.

“It’s one of the great scams ever,” said Levin. If you get such a call, say you’ll call them back or that you’re coming down to the lobby. Hang up and call your credit card company (the number listed on your card) to ensure there’s been no fraudulent activity.

‘FREE VACATION’ PITCHES

The come-ons land by postcard, letter or phone message: “Congratulations, you’ve won a free vacation!” to Tahiti, Tahoe or wherever. They often are linked to “vacation club” memberships, where you join to get discount travel deals.

Typically, they require sitting through a sales presentation at a company’s office or a hotel ballroom in order to receive your “free” round-trip airline tickets or three-day hotel voucher.

After enduring an hourslong, high-pressure sales pitch, problems can arise when consumers try to claim their freebie trip: The voucher covers less than promised, lots of blackout dates apply, or “it’s just incredibly difficult to book the travel,” said Northeast California Better Business Bureau spokeswoman Cailin Peterson.

The promoters frequently employ several layers of marketers, schedulers and voucher “fulfillment” operators, which makes it difficult to get answers or resolve problems.

“They’re not necessarily all bad. Some are legitimate,” said Peterson, but consumers should be cautious.

Check the company’s complaint history on the BBB’s website ( www.bbb.org ). Type the company’s name – and the word “scam” – into an online search box to see what pops up.

“Research before you purchase and don’t let high-pressure tactics get to you,” said Peterson.

SOCIAL MEDIA FRAUD

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