Scammers target families traveling for summer vacation

RALEIGH, N.C.  — Summer is just around the corner and that means lots of people will be going out of town and looking for places to stay – and that’s a good opportunity for scammers to take advantage of you.

Just thinking about planning her dream vacation still makes Elizabeth Bryan nauseous.

“I had the worst stomach ache all the rest of the day that I ever had because it was so bad,” she said.

The Cary grandmother and her family found online what looked like a perfect and affordable house on the beach. The rental ad Bryan and her family responded to was posted on Craigslist. After several email exchanges, she was instructed to deposit one thousand dollars into a bank account.

Once Bryan and her grandchildren got to the beach, they couldn’t find the address for their rental. It didn’t exist.

However, they did find a house that looked like the one in the ad. Another family answered when they knocked on the door.

Bryan said the scammer used a picture of someone else’s beach house.

“That’s when we found the phone number didn’t work” she said.

The $1,000 deposit was gone.

There were red flags that might have tipped her off.

“If you are asked to send via wire and you don’t know who you are sending it to, we highly recommend you do not send the money that way because that’s just like cash. That money is gone,” said Mallory Wojciechowski with the Better Business Bureau of Eastern North Carolina.

Phony house rentals aren’t the only vacation scams to look out for.

The organizers of the Fyre Festival recently made international news and are now facing a class-action lawsuit. Attendees paid thousands of dollars for what was supposed to be a luxury music festival in the Bahamas. What attendees ended up with was cheap tents, cheaper food, and a headliner that had already cancelled.

Raleigh blogger Seth Crossno, who goes by William Needham Finley IV on his blog, spoke to CBS North Carolina about his experience.

“We came across this private island getaway with a private jet that will take you to the island and there will be a million dollar treasure hunt and a list of acts that would perform,” he said. “The tents themselves I think are actually disaster relief tents so it looked like you were on the set of ‘Outbreak’ or something.”

Phone calls and mailers offering “free cruises” could also end up costing you thousands. According to the BBB, they’ve received dozens of complaints about “Holiday Cruise Line” and claims of “free cruises.” But, the company’s website does say in its “Terms and Conditions” agreement that complimentary cruise packages do not include “transportation, port charges and government taxes, services charges, state sales tax, gratuities or incidentals while on board ship.”

It also notes that “upgraded rooms and travel options are available at additional costs”.

“We always say do your research. If you are dealing with what you believe is a legitimate travel site, research that travel site first. You can look-up reviews and use BBB.org to see if it is a legitimate site,” said Wojciechowski.

Travel clubs often sound like a great deal but, again the BBB is warning you to evaluate the travel club’s offerings, compare prices and make sure the club has a good reputation before paying thousands on a membership.

Elizabeth Bryan still thinks about the scam that she fell for.

“I don’t see how they can sleep at night,” she said.

So you can “sleep at night,” the BBB also suggests you use a credit card so you can dispute any charges.

“I always trusted people to be honest and I thought everybody else would be honest. But, I found out they’re not,” Bryan said.