Stay-Away-Cation! Travelocity Hotel Gift Card Scam

A few months ago, as most of us trudged through the gray days of winter, I wrote about the “American Airlines Fly Away Promotion” postcard scam I’d received in my snail mailbox during the holidays. I didn’t bite on that offer but I’m happy to report, with Spring Fever upon us, I’ve got another chance at a fabulous vacation—for FREE! Just this week, I received another incredible notification on a postcard. This one had a slightly different twist because it was from “Travelocity hotel gift card!” Here’s what it said…

Despite the logo, this postcard has nothing to do with Travelocity.

Despite the logo, this postcard has nothing to do with Travelocity.

Congratulations! You will receive 2 round-trip airline tickets on Southwest, Jet Blue, United, or a comparable airline, plus a 3-day/2 night weekend getaway at a hotel such as Marriott, Hyatt and Hilton.

This postcard also included a picture of a commercial jet airplane — this one was a Boeing 747 – adorned with the Travelocity name and logo. It instructed me to,

Call within 48 hours. You will also receive as a bonus a $50 Travelocity Hotel Cash Card!

All good stuff, but I needed to act quickly this time, according to the card. It said they had attempted to contact me several times and that this award must be claimed no later than 7 days after postmark. I must have missed their message on my answering machine and my caller ID failed to record the missed calls from Travelocity or the phone number provided, 1-888-263-6463.

Luckily, I got the postcard in time! “Hot Diggity!” This offer was even better than the first one because twice they used words like “will,” which sounds like a guarantee to me! I’m thinking my next vacation is all but a done deal. Heck, I don’t even care if I have to sit through a 90-minute travel club presentation to claim my prize. I’m OK with that, especially since I have more time than money. I’m willing to sit through a short sales presentation in exchange for saving hundreds of dollars on plane tickets. Then I’m booking my seats on that “Freedom Bird” baby! And the tickets are FREE!

F – R – E – E !…Right?

Well, they’re free after I pay the applicable taxes, deposits and/or fees, which are usually about $100 per ticket. But once I’ve done that, I can fly almost anywhere, whenever I want. In the words of Lynyrd Skynyrd, I’ll be free as a bird, now…”

…except not during the blackout dates or other restricted times and if those times are already full.

But even if this prize/promotion isn’t actually sponsored by Travelocity, what’s the big deal with that? Just like the other postcard notification, they were honest enough to provide that information in the fine print, as follows:

Certain restrictions apply. Call for details. Taxes, deposits and/or fees are the responsibility of the recipient. This promotion not sponsored by Southwest, Jet Blue, United, Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt or Travelocity. Not
applicable to Alaska or Hawaii.

Don't let the strong language fool you... The only thing you "WILL" get for sure, is the runaround.

Don’t let the strong language fool you…
The only thing you “WILL” get for sure, is the runaround.

ALL RIGHT! ENOUGH ALREADY! It’s time to stop kidding myself, trying to convince myself that this is a good deal for me. And you should stop trying to convince yourself, too. THIS IS A RIPOFF!

If we’re being honest with ourselves, we’d be better off just round filing that postcard if ANY of the following apply:

  • You’re told that you must provide personal information, such as your age, marital status, or household income in order to be eligible for the prize or promotion.
  • There’s a charge for anything you’ve won.
  • More conditions or requirements arise as you move along in the process.
  • You encounter hard-sell tactics pressuring you to join a costly travel club.
  • Special deals, rates, or vacation packages are good for a limited time or one day only, creating a sense of urgency for you to quickly make a decision to purchase.
  • The representative on the phone informs you there will be a “small service fee applied to your card” for accepting the prize or special offer.
  • The old “ Bait & Switch” occurs, where you’re told about the “catch” after you’ve provided your credit card information, such as a requirement to buy an additional ticket or night’s stay at the regular (often inflated) price in order to get the freebie.
  • You’re told you will have an opportunity to review the vacation package before your credit card is actually charged, when in fact, your card is charged immediately.

If you do take a company up on their vacation offer, be aware of these red flags:

  • The charges add up to more than the cost of the airfare and hotel had you purchased them on your own.
  • For the discount travel package all you receive are coupons or discounts you could obtain elsewhere for free.
  • Your vacation materials are slow to arrive in the mail, if they arrive at all.
  • The promised materials do arrive in the mail but not until after the booking period has passed or possibly not until after the “review period” has elapsed.

Finally, take these precautions ahead of time:

  • Directly contact the company whose name appears on any promotion (Travelocity in this case) to verify that they are, in fact, offering the promotion or prize.
  • Don’t sign any agreements that don’t spell out all of the promised services and conditions for obtaining them.
  • If you do provide a credit card, debit card, or bank account number, for ANY reason, expect to be charged. DO NOT provide the information until after all of your reservations are confirmed, in writing, with a reservation number.

You can ask all the questions you want to about cancellation policies and the availability of trip insurance, but if you’re dealing with scammers, fraudsters, liars, or thieves, they’ll tell you EXACTLY what you want to hear, and they’ll take more of your money to do it. Victims of vacation scams don’t usually discover they’re being taken until they try to make their reservations, only to find out they cannot reach the “travel agency” because their phones are disconnected, the company has moved, or it’s out of business altogether. And of course, the travel company didn’t contact them to notify them of these “unfortunate circumstances” or to offer a refund.

BOTTOM LINE:  Be very wary of any vacation or travel “prize” or “award” – especially from a contest or promotion you didn’t enter or other unsolicited source. Don’t be like the facetious me above and ignore the warning signs just because you really want to be a “winner!” Shred those “Stay-Away-Cation” postcards and save your time and money, while avoiding the headaches.


Other Related Articles:

Free Vacation Give Away Scams
Scammers Lure Victims with Fake Free Plane Tickets

If you're looking for great anti-virus software that won't break the bank, try StopSign. You don't pay extra for tech support for difficult malware, and our web protection software just works. Download & install StopSign to find out why our members choose us over the other options.

Phone Bill Cram Scam: Avoiding Unauthorized Charges

Phone Bill Cram Scam: Avoiding Unauthorized Charges

Update: “FTC Files Its First Case Against Mobile Phone Cramming

Is your phone bill creeping up higher and higher in cost per month? If so, you could be the victim of a telephone billing scam know as cramming, which has bilked millions of dollars out of phone customers for years.

Unauthorized charges on consumers’ phone bills, whether a land line or a wireless phone, are often referred to as “cramming“, and this scam has been featured more and more in the news recently. Cramming itself is nothing new, and at one point was one of the leading profit points for the mob. It’s often hard to find cramming right away because the added charges are usually low, and most people don’t read their phone bills closely enough to see it.

Examples of unauthorized charges on your phone bill include: club memberships, ringtones, voice mail, “service fees”, web hosting, “minimum usage fees”, entertainment calls, and anything else that sounds generic or unfamiliar. Here are some tips to avoid, or at least get rid of, phone cramming:

  • Read your monthly statement:Look for unusual and unauthorized charges. Read your phone bill carefully, because the fees associated with cramming are often small (somewhere in the $2-$5 range isn’t unusual) and easy to miss.
  • Block third party charges:Your phone carrier should have the option to block all third-party charges from your phone.
  • Don’t back down:If you suspect a false charge, call the service provider and have them explain the charge. If you still don’t recall authorizing it, get them to stop billing. You also shouldn’t need to pay them. Your phone service cannot be disconnected for not paying the third-party portion of your phone bill.

A good way to avoid cramming is to steer clear of where the crammers are looking for victims. Stay away from entering contests by phone, joining clubs or memberships to non-mainstream groups over the phone, and definitely stay away from 900-numbers and entertainment calls like psychic hotlines and joke/humor services.

If you find charges on your bill that you didn’t ask for or approve, call your phone company to find out how they got there and how to get rid of them. The FCC recommends that you call the company doing the billing and ask them to explain the charges. And if you can’t get any resolution with your phone company, try filing a complaint with the FTC.

Image courtesy of Damian Gadal

If you're looking for great anti-virus software that won't break the bank, try StopSign. You don't pay extra for tech support for difficult malware, and our web protection software just works. Download & install StopSign to find out why our members choose us over the other options.

Near Field Communication: What is it? What are the risks?

Near Field Communication (NFC):  Is the great convenience safe?

Near Field Communication (NFC):
Is the great convenience safe?

Image courtesy of

With all the coolness that smartphones have to offer these days, it’s hard to imagine there’s more to come with yet-to-be added technologies.  One that’s already been on scene for a few years already is just now really getting our attention. It’s called “Near Field Communication” (NFC). Many of today’s smartphones are designed with NFC chips installed, enabling apps to act as many things, most commonly allowing them to be used as debit or credit cards for point of sale transactions. Users can do things like pay for products or services by simply waving their phone or mobile device in front of a compatible scanner. NFC-enabled devices can be held up to an ATM machine or cash register and a transaction is completed. This trend is leading towards the consolidation of everything you need to carry into one device, effectively removing the need to carry a wallet or pocketbook containing your credit or debit cards, or even cash!

NFC data exchange takes place when devices are within a few inches of each another. Like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, NFC allows wireless communication and data exchange between digital and mobile devices. NFC enables communication with other devices or hardware that contain a near field communication tag. Users initiate the sharing of information between devices by swiping within a few inches of the two devices or by literally performing a bump. “Bump” is also the name of a popular mobile app that utilizes the NFC technology: it’s developed by Bump Technologies, Inc. The Bump app lets users share pictures, files, music, and contact information. It also lets users wirelessly share information from their mobile device with their PC. Other NFC applications in Europe allow travel papers and passports to be stored and paid for using the technology. Other uses of NFC technology include NFC-activated locks, which offer a different way to secure buildings. There are also NFC applications to facilitate emergency management.

NFC lets users obtain and exchange information with amazing ease. Neither Internet connectivity nor cellular services are needed. NFC uses electromagnetic radio fields instead of radio signals used by Wi-Fi and Bluetooth communications. This growing technology establishes a secure channel and uses encryption while sending sensitive information. The design of NFC minimizes security concerns for several reasons. First, because the signals do not carry very far, a thief would have to be in very close proximity to the smartphone transmitting the data in order to intercept the signal. Plus, the devices with NFC tags rely on the power supplied by the mobile device in order to interact. Also, the channels used for sending sensitive data are secure and the data is encrypted, which is not easy to decode, and scrambles the information for a would-be thief. Finally, smartphone manufacturers are constantly improving the cryptography and authentication protocols used in NFC-enabled devices. But in spite of all of these safety features, NFC technology is not without security risks.

When a third party intercepts the signal sent between two devices and gains access to the data being transmitted it is referred to as eavesdropping. It’s possible to obtain bank and credit card numbers, personal information such as driver’s license numbers, Social Security numbers, and other personal information without the owner’s knowledge or permission. The information can be obtained if a data transmission between a smartphone and a credit card reader, or between two smartphones, is intercepted. One safeguard is to encrypt the data being transferred.

Data can be intercepted by a “man-in-the-middle” (MITM) security attack, and then read, recorded, modified, altered, or corrupted, and sent it on to the receiving party. The hacker may not intend to steal the information but might just want to stop the accurate data from reaching the intended recipient by blocking the channel. This is often referred to as a “denial of service” attack. It’s usually difficult for these types of attacks to be successful on an NFC link because of the short distance capability of the communications. A secure communication channel is the most effective way to protect against this type of attack.

Mobile malware and viruses could have the ability to read nearby NFC tags and send data, such as credit card numbers, to the hackers. And as more people utilize digital wallets and NFC transactions, mobile malware and virus outbreaks will be on the rise to take advantage of the increased opportunities. Like bees to honey, the more users choose to store sensitive financial and banking information on their phones, the more those devices will be targeted by digital thieves — all with the ability to detect and steal that sensitive data.

Although less common, some attacks can cause the mobile device to crash or uncover vulnerabilities that enable and attacker to gain full control of the device.

Users can and should also take their own precautions to protect their personal information. One of the most overlooked, but probably the greatest source of vulnerability, occurs when smartphones or mobile devices are left unattended for short periods of time. That’s when information can be stolen from smartphones. A little more attention and care can go a long way to protecting your information. Some other suggestions include:

  • Password protect your smartphone and make sure your phone screen is locked when not in use. That way, if your device is ever lost, stolen, or misplaced, your information can’t be accessed and unauthorized purchases or sharing of your information can be prevented.
  • Use an additional pin or password when making any NFC transaction for increased security.
  • Don’t choose to store your username or log-in ID in apps on your mobile device.
  • Be careful when choosing which apps to download, depending on the operating system your device uses and its respective app store. Far more malicious applications are found in the Google Play store than the Apple iTunes AppStore, mostly because of the differences in app review and approval processes between the two (none vs. very stringent).
  • Use mobile antivirus software and keep it up-to-date at all times.
  • Install security apps. Some can automatically take a picture of a thief attempting to access your smartphone’s contents and either store it for you to see once the device is recovered or possibly to automatically email it to you.
  • Only open links to sites that you know are safe and trustworthy.


Now that you’re aware of NFC technology and the things you can do because of it, enjoy the convenience it affords us — just beware of the potential risks and exercise a bit of caution. Mobile app developers will continue to improve NFC security through their coding, development practices, and by continuously testing the security of their apps. Meanwhile, it’s widely believed that the risks of NFC technology really aren’t any greater than those associated with typical credit card transactions. So, in that case, embrace the future and swipe and bump away.

Bump ya later!

Related Resources:

The Risks of Near Field Communication


If you're looking for great anti-virus software that won't break the bank, try StopSign. You don't pay extra for tech support for difficult malware, and our web protection software just works. Download & install StopSign to find out why our members choose us over the other options.

Avoiding FDA & DEA Prescription Drug Scams Online

Avoiding FDA & DEA Prescription Drug Scams Online

The number of scams involving prescription drugs online has blown up in recent years, with scam artists posing as DEA and FDA agents and using an extortion scam in an attempt to get a “fine” out of online pharmacy customers.

With prescription drug prices at an all-time high, it’s no surprise that millions of people across the globe are looking online for the best prices for their medication. But where there’s opportunity, scammers can’t be far behind. The typical scam sequence goes something like this:

The Rx scam artists call their victims, who usually have purchased drugs online at some point, and claim to be either an FDA or DEA agent. During the conversation they tell their intended victim that buying their prescription drugs on the Internet is illegal and that a fine must be paid; generally ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, but even six-figure numbers have been reported. Side note: While most victims have only had phone interactions with the extortionists, at least one victim in Fort Worth, Texas has claimed that people came to their home claiming to be agents.

The truth of the matter is that this fine is actually a thinly veiled attempt at extortion, and the money they demand is usually sent via wire transfer. If you refuse to send money, they threaten you and your family with arrest, search and seizure of property, and even deportation or physical harm. Basically they’ll say anything to get you to comply with their extortion attempt.

Take caution when using online pharmacies. Since the pharmacists and their wares are all dealt with virtually instead of physically, the risk of succumbing to extortion, blackmail, and fraud increases exponentially.

You can protect yourself against extortion by adopting the following precautions when purchasing prescriptions and other drugs on the Internet:

  • No Prescription Required:

    If the online pharmacy claims that no prescription is required, that’s a huge red flag. Your best bet is to find another Internet pharmacy.

  • No FDA Approval:

    If you’re offered drugs that aren’t approved by the FDA then keep away from them. No FDA approval means there’s been no formal testing of the medications they’re selling.

  • Unsealed Prescriptions:

    If your prescriptions come to you unsealed, opened, or altered in any fashion, do not use them! Better to be out a few dollars than to take meds that have been tampered with.

  • No US Contact Info:

    If there’s only contact information for the Dominican Republic (where most of the Rx scams seem to be coming from), or some other foreign country, or even if there’s no contact info at all, avoid buying from that online pharmacy.

  • Call the DEA and FDA:

    If you suspect you’re being targeted by scammers in an attempt at extortion, call the DEA at 1-877-792-2873, or the FDA at 1-877-792-2873, and speak with a real agent or other representative.

Image courtesy of lifementalhealthpics

If you're looking for great anti-virus software that won't break the bank, try StopSign. You don't pay extra for tech support for difficult malware, and our web protection software just works. Download & install StopSign to find out why our members choose us over the other options.

7 Common Work From Home Scams To Avoid

7 Common Work From Home Scams To Avoid

With the current state of the world economy, it’s no wonder that many people are looking for ways to supplement their income. The problem is that taking on another full-time or even part-time job usually involves added expenses for child care, gas to and from work, and even less quality time with loved ones. Because of this, many people look to find ways to make money with a home-based business.

Working from the convenience of your home is a popular notion. So popular, in fact, that there are reportedly 300 new ones started every hour, and there are an estimated 38 million home-based businesses in the US. Part of what makes them attractive (besides the extra money) is the idea of setting your own hours, creating a better work/life balance, and the fact that many home-based businesses have a very low start-up cost.

But as with anything, there are risks involved, and in this case, the risk goes beyond not being able to pull in enough cash to make ends meet. Identity theft, lost money, compromised personally identifiable information, and more are all on the table when you invite the wrong company or people into your life.

If you’ve been thinking about starting a home based business, here are 7 of the most common work at home scams to avoid:

  1. Mystery Shopping:
    It’s the easiest job in the world: Visit a series of stores in your area and give the mystery shopper company a review of your purchases and experience. All you have to do is pay out a registration fee to get your training materials, your list of stores to visit, and some may even require you to become “certified”, which of course the scammers can do for another fee.
  2. Assembly Work:
    You’ve probably seen this in your local paper: Earn money in your spare time by putting together crafts, small pieces of equipment, or similar things. Of course you need to pay a nominal amount to get the boxes. Or maybe it’s the training materials. Regardless, you’re required to pay a little up front to make so much more later one.
  3. Data Entry:
    If you can type, you can make money online. At least that’s what the ad says. Not surprisingly, you have to pay to play based on some cockamamie requirement: training, materials, a list of sites, whatever. The end result is that you’re left in the cold and out of cash.
  4. Survey Scam:
    Many of these scams involve you setting up a profile on a site, and then you can get to work. Your profile may include things like your name (first and last, naturally), home address, some likes or preferences (favorite color, favorite food, TV shows, etc.), and possibly your social security number. You know, for tax purposes. Then you’re directed to a number of sites where you can get a cash reward for filling out more information. All the while the scammers are scraping your valuable info to sell to someone else, and at the end of the day you find out that there are so many restrictions on getting paid (sometimes including you being required to purchase something) that you’re never going to see that money.
  5. Envelope Stuffing:
    This one has been around forever, but people seem to keep falling for it. For a small fee (this is a common trend for home-based business scams) you’re supposed to receive regularly scheduled boxes of papers and their associated envelopes and, well, you get to stuffing envelopes. Simple, right? The problem is that those boxes never come, and you’re out the “small fee.”
  6. Pre-screened Job Lists:
    This one is often a scam within a scam, making it particularly nasty. Pay to join a site that has compiled a list of pre-screened work-at-home jobs so you don’t have to get fleeced by those other bad scammers. Right. These are probably the same crooks on the other sites, they just found a way to get you to pay twice. You may even get access to a large list of sites with work-at-home jobs listed, but all kinds of things can happen: You could lose your account for some made-up violation of site policies, the jobs on those other sites are bogus, or there are so many restrictions or requirements to the jobs that you’re never going to be qualified for a decent job.
  7. Rebate Processing:
    Process other people’s rebates for companies that are overwhelmed and you can earn a boatload of cash. Here’s another scam involving training kits to become certified or registered with their service.

Those most likely to be exploited by these work at home opportunities are those who may have more trouble finding a job: The elderly, people drowning in debt, the disabled, single parents, high school and college students, and the unemployed… but anyone can be fooled by the right con artist. If you want to avoid the majority of work-at-home scams out there, just remember the following:

  • If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
  • If they make you pay to play, it’s probably a scam.
  • Check the BBB to make sure that the company is on the up-and-up.

Filtering out work at home opportunities with those 3 tips will save you endless headaches, keep your cash in your pocket, and maybe even find a few gems to choose from because work at home jobs do exist! But they tend to be hard to come by and are very competitive. Do you have any experience with home-based businesses, good or bad? Let us know in the comments below.

Image courtesy of nikcname

If you're looking for great anti-virus software that won't break the bank, try StopSign. You don't pay extra for tech support for difficult malware, and our web protection software just works. Download & install StopSign to find out why our members choose us over the other options.

Take Off, Eh? Fly Away Promotion Scam

Here’s hoping you enjoyed the recently concluded holiday season. The new year brings many things and, depending on where you live, you may be longing for it to bring some fun in the sun. This may be especially true if your weather is cold and gray or
wet every day. Thankfully, despite the gloomy weather, my post-holiday season remains merry and bright. This is partly because I decided to stick around the almost Great White North rather than falling for the “American Airlines Fly Away Promotion” scam, which arrived in my snail mailbox during the holidays.

The postcard included a picture of a commercial jet airplane, adorned with a happy holidays wish and a pretty red bow. The message read,

“Congratulations – In celebration of our new fall packages we’ve selected you to receive 2 round trip airfares to most major airports in the contiguous United States – good for the next 12 months!”

Me? For me? Someone who rarely flies or travels, let alone on American Airlines? Pretty exciting, huh? But wait! It gets even better. It says,

“Call within 48 hours and receive a 3 day 2 night hotel stay at major brands.”

It said all I had to do was call the toll-free phone number and mention the promo code on the postcard. Wow! How exciting. I’ve never been to major brands, wherever that is.

But there was fine print. At least they included fine print.  Better to have a tip that’s hard to read than no tip at all.

“All trademarks and service marks are the property of their respective owners. Offer void where prohibited by laws. All components of this offer are fulfilled by a third-party. Certain restrictions apply. Recipient responsible for all applicable taxes. Please call for details.”

OK. That’s not a deal breaker, is it?

Next stop, Google search. Articles and readers’ comments from Connecticut to Southern California quickly indicate the “promotions” range from gimmicks for getting people to sign up for expensive travel or vacation clubs, to paying for website subscriptions, to making a no obligation visit to the travel agency so they can show you how they can save you money.

Ahh, these are the third parties. Oh yeah, and there’s often more fine print in the promotional materials. It informs you of what you actually receive — a certificate to claim your gift BUT charges for deposits, shipping and handling, processing, reservations, taxes, etc. are your responsibility. Not surprisingly, these charges can up to more than the value of the airfare and hotel accommodations.

Any and all of these stipulations may apply. Worse yet, you may also need to sit through an informational seminar about the travel agency’s fantastic promotions, travel packages, or vacation club benefits.

All applicable conditions often don’t become clear until it’s too late to change your mind, possibly after you’ve signed some sort of binding agreement.

One more thing…anytime you’re asked to provide a credit card or bank account number to hold a reservation, for a deposit, or for verification purposes, BEWARE! That’s a red flag for an almost certain ripoff.

Remember, any scammer can use a legitimate company’s logo illegally or without permission. And even if they use it legally, it may be nothing more than a marketing ploy dressed up as a free prize from a major air carrier.

So if you value your time and dislike being disappointed by things that aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, follow the wise words of Bob and Doug McKenzie and tell ’em to, “Take Off!”

Related Articles:

Stay-Away-Cation!  Travelocity Hotel Gift Card Scam

Free Air Travel Getaways Postcards: Don’t Believe It
Consumer Alert: “Southwest Escape” Offer Grounded

Travel postcard deal too good to be true


If you're looking for great anti-virus software that won't break the bank, try StopSign. You don't pay extra for tech support for difficult malware, and our web protection software just works. Download & install StopSign to find out why our members choose us over the other options.