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Hotel Group: Fake Hotel-Booking Sites on the Rise

By / May 13, 2015 (iStock/Thinkstock)

The American Hotel & Lodging Association says that federal regulators should do more to protect consumers from fraudulent hotel-booking sites—but that consumers should keep an eye out as well.

Imagine walking in to a hotel after a long day of travel and hearing that the reservation you made online is not in its system—but money was taken out of your account.

Hotels and travelers are getting scammed by reservation websites that mimic the ones hotels have, fooling travelers and costing hotels to lose hundreds of millions in revenue.

“If you book the room online you may not find out there is a problem until you show up at the front desk,” Maryam Cope, American Hotel and Lodging Association’s (AHLA) vice president for government affairs, told the Los Angeles Times.

The group is pushing both Congress and the U.S. Department of Justice to crack down on the issue.

Taking Action

AHLA says about 2.5 million people are getting fooled by such websites, which most often look almost identical to the hotel’s site. The issue is particularly noteworthy, as one-in-three hotel stays are reserved online these days.

AHLA says five members of Congress are working with the association on the issue, which it estimates costs travelers and hotels more than $220 million a year.

People “book the room, they pay the money with their credit card, and, lo and behold, they show up at the hotel with their printed out reservation and they don’t have a reservation and they’ve lost all that money,” Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) told KTAR News.

The congressional members working with AHLA wrote to the Department of Justice and requested an investigation into the practice.

“They are not getting cracked down on for this,” Cope said of scammers. “And until they do, they will continue to do it.”

Tips to Avoid Scams

There are about 480 hotel bookings each minute online, according to AHLA, and many of them can be scams.

“These are primarily unknown companies that sometimes open and close within matter of weeks, under different names,” Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association Senior Vice President Kristen Jarnagin said to the Phoenix Business Journal. “It is not forthcoming with who the customer is booking with.”

Tom Lubbe, president of the Shreveport-Bossier Hotel & Lodging Association in Louisiana, offered KTBS these tips for avoiding scams:

Watch out for suspiciously low prices. Hotel brands all have their own “lowest price guarantee,” which is shown on their official websites and verified third-party websites like Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz. So, if a third-party hotel reservation site shows a lower price than the hotel is advertising, that’s usually a sign something’s off.

Think about loyalty points. Only the official hotel website can honor loyalty points. Sites like Expedia and Travelocity have their own points programs. Claims by third-party vendors that they can take hotel loyalty numbers or hotels will take them when a traveler checks-in are false.

Are special requests possible? Fraudulent sites are generally unable to accommodate travelers with disabilities. Nor can they upgrade rooms or do special requests.

Asking for the deposit first. Another fishy trick that should ring bells is the demand for a deposit without any other reservation information.

Patrick deHahn

Patrick deHahn is a contributor to Associations Now. More »

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