Bamboozled: Don’t let scammers ruin your vacation

Now that summer is in full swing, lots of consumers are thinking of booking a vacation.

Scammers know it, and they’re hoping to capitalize on your attempts to save a few bucks.??????????????????

They’ll try to trick you with fake emails, phony Facebook offers and regular paper mailings that promise to save you money.

Don’t fall for it.

One popular email scam offers you a gift card or voucher in exchange for taking a survey.

“This time of year, fake airline offers are particularly popular, but the `gift card’ could be from any well-known brand,” said the Better Business Bureau (BBB) in a warning on its web site.

The offer tells you to click a link and complete a short customer survey. Sometimes the offer is via email, but you will also see similar posts on social media sites.

What they all have in common is that they’re frauds.

The BBB said the survey scams use a variety of tricks to lure consumers.

The link you’re referred to may lead to a real survey, but when you complete it, the gift card or voucher is “out of stock.” Some will offer a consolation prize of free samples of “spammy products like diet pills and wrinkle cream,” BBB said.

Other versions of the scam bring you to a survey, but the form will actually ask for your personal banking or credit card information.

Still others may download malware to your computer to steal your passwords and other critical information when you click the link, BBB said.discount

Facebook is another favorite destination for fakery.

You might see an “ad” or a post offering free airline tickets, a free iPad or iPhone, free gift cards or vouchers, and more, according to Facecrooks.com, a web site whose mission is “to monitor and chronicle the seedy, unsavory and sinister side of social media.”

If you see a “free” offer on social media, forget it. Facecrooks said 99 percent of the time, “the end game encountered by unsuspecting users is either a survey scam or a marketing gimmick where you have to complete several ‘special,’ ‘reward’ or ‘bonus’ offers to qualify for the promotion.”

The problem? The offers often cost money, even after you’ve followed all the multi-part directions to qualify for the freebie that interested you in the first place.

Facecrooks said scammers are trying to trick you into getting your personal information. For example, if you agree to take a “survey,” you may be asked for your name, address, birth date and more.

“This is a treasure trove of data for unscrupulous marketers and identity thieves,” Facecrooks said.

Even if your information isn’t asked for outright, malware could still end up on your machine or device.

Then there are offers for something free, but you can’t get the offer until you sit for a sales pitch, for example, for a timeshare or membership in a travel club.

A promise of a free cruise and airline tickets was how travel scam mastermind Daryl Turner enticed thousands of consumers to hear his dog and pony show for memberships in his travel clubs, according to law enforcement. Turner and his wife. Robyn Bernstein, used the logos of legitimate companies to help consumers believe the “free” tickets were for real, and once inside the seminar, consumers were offered travel club memberships costing thousands of dollars. But when “members” tried to use the free travel vouchers or book discount travel, Turner’s companies didn’t provide what was promised, authorities said. He’s now serving a seven-year sentence for second-degree theft by deception.

So while crooks are out there to fool you, not every offer is a phony. Real companies do offer vouchers and discounts in exchange for a customer survey.

The BBB offers some advice on how to investigate which offers are the real thing.

First, research the web site that you’re directed to visit for the survey. Start by visiting WhoIs.net, a web site where you can see who has registered a web site. Copy the link in the email offer and paste it into the WhoIs directory.

“This directory will tell you when and to whom a domain is registered,” BBB said. “If the URL is brand new, or if the ownership is masked by a proxy service, consider it a big warning sign of a scam.”

Next, pay attention to the spelling of the URL for the web site. Many scammers will register web site names that are very similar to real ones, or they’re use a modified site name, perhaps with a hyphen or adding an “s” to the end of a real company name, helping them to impersonate an authentic business.

Also know that some real surveys may ask for personal information, but before you provide it, check out the company’s privacy policy, BBB said.

And legit ones will never ask for your banking or credit card information.

Importantly, don’t forget: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com.

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