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6 Clues That ‘Free’ Holiday Trip is a Scam

The phone call comes during the busy dinner hour. Your kids are whining, your husband is late. Wow. Wouldn't you like to get away? That free or nearly free cruise sounds enticing…you provide the caller with your personal details "for the reservation" and agree to pay a "processing fee."

The caller promises to send you some vouchers to redeem against your travel but when they arrive you find out they’re worthless. Your holiday hopes are dashed, and you never see your money again.

'Tis the Season

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, scammers may call or use mail, texts, faxes or ads promising free or low-cost vacations. In reality, those vacation offers may end up charging you poorly disclosed fees or may be fake, plain and simple.

Here are six tell-tell signs from the FTC that a travel offer or prize might be a scam:

  1. You need to pay some "fees" for your "free vacation". Legitimate companies won't ask you to pay for a prize. Companies pushing a "free" vacation will probably want something from you — taxes and fees, attendance at mandatory timeshare presentations, even pressure to buy "extras" or "add-ons" for the vacation, etc. Find out what your costs are before agreeing to anything.
  2. They ask for a credit card number. Be wary, especially if they say it's to "verify" your identity or your prize; don't give it to them.
  3. They cold-call, cold-text, or email you out of the blue. Before you do business with any company you don't know, call the Attorney General and local consumer protection agencies in the company's home state to check on complaints; then, search online by entering the company name and the word "complaints" or "scam" and read what other people are saying.
  4. They don't (or can't) provide specifics. They've promised a stay at a "five-star" resort or a cruise on a "luxury" ship. The more vague the promises, the less likely they'll be true. Ask for specifics, and get them in writing. Check out the resort's address; look for photos of the ship; contact the resort or shipping carrier to confirm the offer.
  5. You're pressured to sign up for a travel club for great deals on future vacations. The pressure to sign up or miss out is a signal to walk away. Travel clubs often have high membership fees and limited choice of destinations or travel dates.
  6. You get a robo-call. Robo-calls from companies trying to sell you something are almost always illegal if you haven't given the company written permission to call you. That's true even if you haven't signed up for the national Do Not Call Registry.

If you think you may have been targeted by a travel scam, report it to the FTC at For more on travel scams, visit

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