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If you’re trying to change a flight, here’s how to avoid internet scams

If you’re trying to change a flight, here’s how to avoid internet scams

If you’re trying to change a flight, here’s how to avoid internet scams

A new type of vacation scam is emerging.

A new type of vacation scam is emerging.

©Pascal POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP

Travel scams

More and more travelers in this summer period receive calls to change a plane ticket or a hotel reservation. These solicitations actually conceal scams.

Atlantico: A new type of holiday scam is emerging: companies have posed as airlines or hotels and charge high fees to travelers who call them to change a plane ticket or a reservation. How does this deception work?

Morgan Bourven: This problem is in fact not new: people who have once been to the United States, and had to fill out and pay for an ESTA form before leaving, are surely familiar with these practices. Ditto for those who wanted to obtain administrative documents in France! In concrete terms, these are margoulins who create websites resembling those of official bodies, airlines or hotels, to bill for services that are normally free or very inexpensive. A man thus appeared at the end of 2020 before the Paris Criminal Court for having abused thousands of Internet users thanks to a dozen fake administrative sites.

The technique is always the same: create a site with official appearances and carefully reference it on Google. Then charge Internet users for a service without telling them that the site is only an intermediary. For example, for ESTA, they will charge around fifty euros for their service, whereas it costs €20 on the US government site and only takes a few minutes. If the procedure is not prohibited in itself (after all, you have the perfect right to pay someone to do the procedure for you, this is the principle of a concierge service), the service offered and the price invoiced must be clearly displayed, which is rarely the case: the sites clearly pass themselves off as the brands they are copying.

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A Bloomberg reporter says that this summer, she wanted to change a plane ticket and after searching on Google for the airline’s customer service number, came across someone who explained to her that the change fee was $150. The journalist paid before realizing that her interlocutor was not the airline’s customer service department at all. She then blocked the transaction with her bank. The airline then changed her ticket for free, but the provider she had contacted continued to harass her until the flight date.

This type of scam does not have too many consequences – so to speak, because the sums can be significant – when the service is carried out through the intermediary, even if you have paid dearly for it. But it can be much more dangerous if the site, in addition to debiting your money, steals your personal data (and in particular banking data) to then empty your bank account. It is therefore necessary to be particularly careful.

Why are these scams more numerous this summer?

Two reasons combine. On the one hand, the strong recovery of the tourism sector, which has returned to levels comparable to 2019, means that more people are likely to fall for the trap. On the other hand, this recovery was poorly anticipated by players in the sector, and in particular the airlines. Flight cancellations are on the rise and customer services are overwhelmed: it is extremely difficult to get someone on the phone, and scammers take advantage of this. The Bloomberg journalist, moreover, specifies that when she called the false customer service of her company, someone immediately picked up, which should have put her on the alert!

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Everything you need to know to organize a summer under the threat of a new Covid wave

What advice can you give to travelers so that they don’t fall into the trap?

As always on the Internet, do not blindly rely on Google search results: unreliable sites may have paid to appear among the first results. Always check the address of the site you are on to make sure it belongs to the airline or organization you want to contact. The surest way to find the right customer service number, or the right email address, is to retrieve it from your reservation confirmation email, or from the company’s application if it has one. Increasingly, to compensate for the very long waiting time on the telephone, forms are available on the sites: use them preferably. You can also contact the airline on social media.

Finally, before any modification, take a look at the conditions of your reservation: they must indicate in particular whether the ticket or the room can be modified with or without charge. This will save you from paying illegitimate charges.



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