Travel Scam: Help!

Travelling is usually filled of wonderful opportunities and full of first time occasions. For most, sharing that with friends and family is a one of the joys that come with it. One of the best ways to keep up with the Jones’ after all, is to use the check in facility on social media sites to notify your arrival at say, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or to upload the picture taken of you when you’re about to take the plunge on the world’s largest bungee jump.

However, there are some risks associated with broadcasting your achievements to the world of the internet, especially when it comes to using social media sites.

Even if it’s not you who’s the one lucky enough to be travelling, you could still fall victim to part of a travel scam. One of the scams that really tug at the heart strings of loved ones is when you hear the news that someone close to you is in trouble overseas and needs financial aid.

Such news can come in the form of a generic blanket email sent to everyone – fortunately for most, they are usually easy enough to spot that they’re obviously a scam. However, some astute crooks are using the internet, scanning social networking sites looking for tip-offs about peoples travel plans and using it to their advantage.

Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare are often used for people to touch base with friends and family to share their latest news and keep people updated with their whereabouts. Young people especially, are big users of social media making their exciting trips public by posting regular updates.

The problem is, by having information publicly displayed and having contact lists visible, fraudsters can use these snippets of information to craft personalised authentic sounding pleas aimed at their loved ones.

Seeking such information can be done just as simply as monitoring what someone is posting, but to really make an effective cry for help, some fraudsters will even hack traveller’s email and social networking accounts. By doing this, they can target their family such as parents or grandparents by sending emails claiming that they are in trouble abroad and need money wired over to them. This has been a particular problem in Australia, where many have lost thousands of dollars responding to bogus distress emails.

The typical type of email will be sent to a family member, found from their email address book or social media account. They are able to say that they are in trouble in the correct country that they are in, provided the traveller has posted their whereabouts. They then claim that they have been mugged or been in trouble with the police and had everything stolen, including their bank card, so they need some money sent to them via a money transfer service.

Often claiming to have run up a large bill, they ask for enough to cover their bill and money so that they can return home. Occasionally – these types of scam also take the form of a phone call on a bad line also. Such emails or social media messages will often place the recipient in a state of panic, feeling compelled to help their vulnerable loved one.

They agree to send over a large sum of money immediately to ensure their safety and to help them out of the sticky situation. With all money wiring services, once the money is gone, it’s gone.

It is easy to obtain sufficient personal information to target a victim. Information gathered from driver’s licences left behind in public places can be linked to online accounts simply by searching the name and details that are provided on the card. Such crooks will devote a lot of time to investigating the situation, building the victim’s profile to give a sincere impression when the pleas for help are sent.

The fraudsters sometimes even go to the extent of using online networking services, to create profiles using fake names. To gain trust online, they may claim to have a common hobby, be in a shared group, or use a picture of an attractive person for their profile picture. Once they are accepted, they can access your personal information, and they then use these profiles to personally target victims with scams. If they also know that the house where the victim lives will be vacant for a time period, it also increases the risk of burglary.

To avoid falling victim to such a scam, it is advised

– Plan ahead and provide relatives of the names and places you plan to stay at, and inform them when you arrive. Provide as much information as you can, such as contact information, hotel phone numbers and mobile numbers of you and whoever you’re travelling with

– Do not send money via a cash wire service. Instead, insist on speaking to them over the phone first, and do not trust the email. If they do not answer, try to contact the hotel where they are meant to be staying, or their travel companion.

– As exciting as it may be, try to refrain from posting updates and images on social media sites until you return home.

This can happen anywhere, but grandparents have been known to be particularly vulnerable to this scam.

flickr image by B Rosen

Date posted: 6th September, 2012

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