With recent news headlines outing a scammer in Florida disguised as a travel agent that took off with people’s deposits, it’s no wonder alarm bells are ringing, and you start wondering whether you can trust your travel agent. After all, few things are more disheartening than putting a deposit on a long overdue vacation only to realize that you’ve basically handed over your cold-hard cash to a con artist, and now you can’t afford to go away for a holiday.
Unfortunately, just as Craigslist, Contractors, and the Nigerian Lottery all have imposters trying to score an unearned buck from their victims, the travel industry is not immune to this trickery either. What’s worse is that many times, it’s not necessarily a malicious crook behind the misappropriation of your money. Sometimes, it’s someone looking to take advantage of the personal travel perks. Often, it’s a well-intentioned person looking for a quick way to make money. One who isn’t a professional, who took a few shortcuts to set up shop, and doesn’t realize everything it takes to run a true agency.
Since a travel agent is meant to be your concierge for world exploration, it’s still the best route to take. That is, IF you work with someone legitimate, that you can trust. That’s why we’ve curated a few pertinent tips or steps you can take to ensure your money AND vacation plans are safe!
- Check out Their Footprint: With the advent of the internet, and the ability to work remotely, it’s easier than ever for people to set up shop and conduct business. No longer are you required to have a brick-and-mortar building to rake in revenue. However, the more established a business is, the more likely they are to be legit. Beware of someone who only has a Facebook page for their business. Check to see they have a fully-fledged site up, that reviews are available on more than just their site, and that they have social media channels they are using to communicate. Take it a step further, and call them directly to ask questions, and get a sense of who you’re dealing with. While this doesn’t fully ensure your safety, the more steps a scammer has to take, the less likely they are to do it. (NOTE: They’re looking for easy targets and choose to take the path of least resistance to get there.)
- Find Out What Associations They Affiliate with: In order to offer their clients the best deals and book their trips accordingly, any reputable agent will have at least one affiliation with an accreditation and identity association. Feel free to ask them who they are accredited to. This means they have at least invested a bit of money and paper trail into their business. Also, some states require you to be licensed to work as an agent. If you live in Iowa, California, Florida, and Washington, make sure anyone you deal with is legal! No matter where your agent is from, they need to be licensed to help someone in the aforementioned areas. Also, are they active in the community? Are they members of the Chamber, or other social organizations? These questions keep them ingrained in the community and hold them to a higher standard.
- Where’s the Liability: Your agent doesn’t have to carry insurance. But just as a doctor has malpractice protection, any agent worth their weight in airline miles has liability insurance. Let’s face it: Life happens. If a payment gets missed, the supplier goes bankrupt, or another traveler takes legal action, your adventure is still secure. It’s just another sign that your agent has your best interest in mind.
- Ask for References: Of course, no one will say they’re a terrible agent with a track record to trips gone wrong. However, past clients can speak volumes. Here you’ll get a much more unbiased opinion as to their strengths and weaknesses. You’ll get a better gauge as to how the process will go in the long-run. Are they great with groups? What happens if you get into trouble abroad and need assistance?
- Look for Less Obvious Red Flags: If they have a website, make sure it has https: at the beginning for security. Check the email address. Where are you sending your personal information and what tools are they using to sign contracts? If they say they’re from a big agency, but their email is personal, it is a reason to wonder. Ensure that methods of payment include a paper trail that you can track back if need be. When they start sending you options, ensure that there are valid details and plenty of them. Simply put, a true professional invests in their business and your peace of mind.
- Ask for Proof Before Payment: Before you sign the check or wire funds, consider the payment vehicle. If you’re just transferring money directly to their personal bank account, you should think twice. And don’t be afraid to ask for details of the flights, etc and cross check that those flights are indeed scheduled.
So, while one of these tips isn’t necessarily a reason for escalating alarm bells, the more that ring true, the more due diligence you should take. After all, your money should be spent on your vacation. Period.