Contact 2: Avoiding hotel scams

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – Liz Link was driving home late at night from an out of town business trip when she made the call to stop and spend the night at a hotel.

“So I pulled out my phone, typed in ‘Hilton’ to get a phone number and called what I thought was a Hilton reservation desk to find the closet Hilton to where I was,” Link said.

The Edwardsville resident’s search for shelter proved troublesome. The hotel she called was experiencing technical difficulties.

“When you book a hotel reservation at a strong hotel chain like a Hilton and have their computers not work, I should’ve known that was a problem,” Link said.

But the real problem occurred once the room was finally reserved.

“Even though I thought they were Hilton and they talked like Hilton, it wasn’t Hilton and they booked me at a different hotel,” Link said.

She wound up at a Comfort Suites.

“What we’re seeing is a proliferation of web sites that are pretending to be the hotel. We call them mirror sites,” said Maryam Cope, Vice President of Government affairs for the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

Cope said hotel scams similar to what Liz Link experienced are on the rise.

“What they do is hijack the name, the logo, pictures of the hotel, and they’ll also use the hotel’s name in the website URL so when someone is searching online to make a booking they’ll click on that link thinking they’re going to get a hotel reservation,” she said.

According to the AHLA, some 15 million online hotel booking scams occur every year, leading to losses of $1.3 billion. With most consumers searching at least seven to ten online travel agencies before booking a reservation, con-artists know the guise of an appealing offer can lead to an easy buck.

“If it looks too good to be true, it probably is,” said Cope.

Liz Link considers it’s a lesson learned, grateful she at least had a real room where she could rest without losing a lot money

“I’m smarter than that, but they got me,” she said.

Maryam Cope said the only way to really know if you’re booked at the right hotel is to call that hotel directly. In addition to making sure your room is reserved, do your homework about what’s around the hotel and then ask person you’re talking to some questions. Their answers should help you determine if they’re the real deal.

The best way to avoid surprises is to call the hotel directly or visit its website, or book through a reputable, well-known travel website, such as Expedia, Hotels.com, or Priceline.

Remember, fake sites use URLs that are similar to the real ones. Slow down and make sure you typed in the correct address. A random search, such as “hotels in Cleveland” or “Hiltons in Chicago,” can also give you questionable results.

Does a price seem just too good to be true? Consider that a warning sign.

And always use a credit card to book your reservation. Credit cards provide much better fraud protection than debit cards.