Online scams target bargain-hunting holiday travelers

30% of adults have fallen victim or know someone who has fallen victim to an online scam while trying to save money when booking travel, according to McAfee.

online travel scams

34% of those who had money stolen have lost over $1,000 before their trip has even begun, while 66% lost up to $1,000.

Too good to be true

62% of all vacationers will travel domestically this year and 42% will do so internationally. With inflation and the cost-of-living crisis, the research reveals new concerns for leisure-seekers who, in their quest for a good deal, may be more likely to fall for a scam.

With 94% of people booking travel online this year, it can be easy to get lured into a deal that’s too good to be true. In today’s economic environment, adults are more likely to seek out a bargain deal online (56%), move quickly to snap up a deal (45%), try a new booking site (35%) and even a new destination (36%), in order to save money. However, travel seekers need to stay vigilant to avoid falling for a scam.

Online travel scams can take many forms, with the research finding 14% of all adults have been tricked into making payments through fraudulent platforms and 18% have had their identity stolen when booking online. Of this portion, 7% entered passport information and 11% provided other personally identifiable information to a fake website.

Protecting privacy on vacation

The research also uncovered a discrepancy between people’s sentiments and behaviors, as well as online safety best practices when travelling.

In total, 61% of people are more concerned about digital threats than physical ones, such as being pickpocketed, and 85% of adults hold either some or high concern around their identity being compromised as part of their travel. Despite this, 48% admitted to being less security conscious when on holiday.

Whether it’s connecting to Wi-Fi networks even though they look a bit suspicious (22%), using a free USB charging port at an airport or train station (26%), or leaving their Netflix account logged in after checking out of their accommodation (17%), significant numbers of people have engaged in activities that could put them at increased risk of crime while traveling.

It’s not that people are unaware of the dangers either. While 44% of people think their personal information is less secure when they connect to the internet while on vacation, 43% make use of any services to monitor the safety of their online identity, and 50% don’t use a VPN while on vacation. Of those that do, 20% only do so because they want to stream geo-specific content.

Travelers prioritize online engagement over security

Knowing the risks doesn’t stop travelers from engaging in the behavior. While social media is by far the most common online activity for people to use their phones for while on vacation (60%), also common are chatting with friends and family (55%), online banking (35%) and sending money via apps such as PayPal or Venmo (22%).

Of course, it’s not just adults that use the internet while traveling, with 62% of respondents saying that their children spend time online, too. The relaxed attitude also applies to the kids, with 39% of parents saying they’re either less vigilant when it comes to monitoring their children’s internet use while on vacation or only do so when at home.

“People are often more relaxed and carefree when away from home, but it’s never been more important to remain vigilant when traveling,” says Cagla Ruacan, McAfee’s Head of Product Strategy and Insights.

“From the moment you open your laptop to book a vacation, to when you log into airport Wi-Fi while waiting for the flight home, staying alert and taking precautions helps keep yourself and your loved ones safe from online travel scams. Taking early and proactive steps to manage your security, privacy and online identity means you’ll be able to more safely and confidently enjoy your well-earned vacation,” added Ruacan.

How to prevent online travel scams

Think before you click. Cybercriminals use phishing emails or fake sites to lure people into clicking links that could lead to malware. If you receive an email asking you to click on a link, even if the travel deal sounds great, it’s best to avoid interacting with the message altogether. Always go direct to the source and book with reputable companies.

Connect with caution. Be cautious when connecting to public Wi-Fi while on vacation and make sure the Wi-Fi is secure and attached to a trusted source. Use a virtual private network (VPN) to keep your connection secure and to protect your personal data and activity as you bank, shop, and browse online.

Check before you book. When confirming if a privately-owned vacation rental is legitimate, check the name of the property owner in public records. Don’t pay for rentals by wire transfer, prepaid cards or gift cards. These types of transactions often can’t be reversed if the rental offer is fraudulent.

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