Category Archives for "Scams"

How to Save Money While Travelling, Airlines, Airports and Car Rentals

By Randall Orser | Personal Finances , Scams

When we are travelling, most of us figure that if we have to pay for it we are probably being ripped off or paying too much and that will often be true.  We constantly get stuck paying annoying and usually hidden fees to part us with more of our money.  However there are ways to avoid paying pesky extra charges especially with airlines, at the airport and when renting a car.

AIRLINES AND AIRPORTS

Ticket Prices:  Airline prices are constantly changing, and it is hard to know if you are actually getting a good deal.  Using a price alert app will help you to get the best price for your flight.  If you want to really save money on that flight use your frequent flyer miles, but don’t forget that you still have to pay taxes.  When checking the price of your flight make sure that it includes taxes and surcharges so that you don’t get any nasty surprises!

Cancellation Fees:  It can be expensive to change a flight reservation so if you think that you might have to change your flight make sure that you buy a more flexible airfare that allows changes.  Even if you have to pay more it will usually be worth it.  

Booking on the Phone: If you prefer to speak to a real person when booking your flight, you will usually have to pay for this, but you can book online for free.  If you are really not keen on booking online then consider using a travel agent to do the work for you.

Travel Insurance:  Make sure that you get reliable advice when buying travel insurance to make sure that you are fully covered.  Your travel agent can usually advise you.  If you are booking on line be aware that many airlines will include travel insurance in the cost of the flight, and you have to deselect the insurance optionso that you do not pay for something that you are buying elsewhere. 

Airport Parking:  Using a Park and Fly is usually your best choice if you have to park at the airport.  However, pay attention to the dates that you reserve, and read the fine print.  Make sure that you are paying for the correct amount of time that you will be away. Ahead of time watch out for online deals and coupons.

Once you are at the airport you are essentially a hostage and anything you buy will be overpriced.  Avoid buying food at the airport by packing sealed non liquid snacks and an empty water bottle that you can fill once you have passed through security. 

Baggage Fees:  Pay attention when you book your flight to see how many (if any) are included in the price as well as the maximum weight allowance, so that you know what you will have to pay when you check in.  To avoid luggage charges if possible, travel with only a carry-on bag, but watch out because these also have restrictions now.

In-flight Meals and Drinks:  On many airlines especially budget ones, you have to pay for drinks, meals and snacks.  To avoid overpaying for what is usually a poor meal bring your own snacks and a water bottle.  Other things that you might be charged for during your flight are entertainment devices, headsets, blankets and pillows.  Also, if your destination requires payment of a departure tax (such as Cuba) make sure you are aware of this and keep back some currency to pay for it).

CAR RENTALS

Decide if you really need to rent a car at all? There might be a cheaper alternative. If you just need the car to get around town, consider using a car sharing service.  If you are only going from one place to another, consider using public transit or ride sharing.  

If your travel plans allow look into camper van and car relocations.  Rental companies often have a glut of vehicles in the wrong place for their upcoming reservations and if it fits your plans it is a good option to save money on car rentals.  You will be given a number of days to relocate a vehicle. You are charged around $5 per day then usual rental rates for extra days.  Though you don’t usually get free mileage you get an allowance to get to your destination plus a bonus amount.  You will also get a fuel allowance. 

If you really do have to rent a car watch for advertised specials (such as fly-drive deals).  You should take out insurance but before you buy the rental company insurance check if you are covered for car rentals under your own or your credit card insurance.   Be aware that adding additional drivers to the rental agreement will mean extra fees which are never worked into the fees.  If you are under 25 you will probably have to pay a surcharge for car rental.  

Lastly, if you bring the car back empty, the rental agency will charge you way more to fill up on gas than if you brought it back full.  Make sure you fill up the car at a gas station close to your drop off point.  

Money Tips for Travelling Abroad

By Randall Orser | Personal Finances , Scams

Accessing and converting money while travelling abroad will always cost you but there are some ways of doing this that will cost you less.  Converting your money can comes with some horrendous fees which are often invisible to you, to help you here are some of the most common high fee currency exchanges to avoid.  

Converting Currency – Having some of the local currency in your pocket when you arrive in a foreign country may make you feel more comfortable, getting your cash before you leave Canada is a good idea.  Check online for the best exchange rates at local banks and currency exchanges.  Once you arrive at your destination do not exchange cash at an airport currency exchange counter, their fees are hugely overpriced sometimes as much as 15% more than at a bank.  While you are away use local bank branches or currency exchanges in town to convert your cash.

Watch out for money converting scams such as being short changed, check that the amount you are quoted is what you actually receive. 

Credit Card Conversion – most credit cards companies will add on a foreign exchange fee of around 2.5% when you use your card abroad.  To avoid these fees, get a travel credit card with free foreign exchange.  These often come with other travel perks, but you will also pay an annual fee.  Beware of vendors offering to sell to you in your home currency they are not doing you any favours, the deal will come with bigger and mostly invisible charges.

Debit and ATM Conversion – Banks also get a slice of the pie from currency conversion fees.  Hidden fees on ATM withdrawals and debit card charges are taken as a percentage of your transaction.  Although this is a fee, it is usually at the lowest conversion rate that you will find except for special exchange free credit cards.  If you are using an ATM machine abroad, make sure that it is bank affiliated as private machines will add an extra fee on top of the currency conversion fee.

Credit Card Cash Advances – If the ATM will not accept your debit card you may have no option but to use your credit card for a cash advance. Whether at home or abroad this type of transaction is expensive.  You will be charged a credit card advance fee as well as compounding interest from the day that you make the withdrawal on your entire credit card balance.  To avoid excess charges, go online as soon as you can and pay off your card in full (including the withdrawal service charge), preferably before withdrawing cash.

Traveler’s Cheques – Traveler’s cheques used to be the cheapest way to access cash while abroad but now fewer places are accepting them and they are harder to cash.  You will also pay commissions and fees on traveler’s cheques, and vendors may charge you a fee to cover the cost of cashing them. 

Buying an Airline Ticket Online? Look Out For These Scams

By Randall Orser | Personal Finances , Scams

We all get excited when we think we have scored a deal especially when it comes to cheap airline tickets.  However, it pays to be cautious when buying online as airline ticket scams are fairly common and those thinking they have got a great deal can soon find out that they have been conned.  When you find a deal, research the company offering it.  Check out review sites and online forums to look for complaints and warnings about scams. 

The best way to protect yourself is to make friends with a travel agent and let them advise you when there are air travel deals to be had.  Buying tickets through a licensed travel agent is always the safest way to go so that you are covered under the Consumer Protection rules and regulations in effect in your province.

If you are buying tickets online, as well as booking on a registered travel agency website here are some tips to follow to avoid scams.

1.  Make sure that you are fully informed before you press submit:  Read the fine print to make sure that you know exactly what you are getting.  Double check dates, times, connections, seat allocation and luggage allowances.  

2.  Watch out for Phishing Scams: It is easy to be lured in by sites offering lower prices for the same flights offered on other sites.  Once you click accept to make a purchase, they collect all your credit card data then tell you that your payment was declined.  They may then ask you to wire payment which results in your money being stolen and your credit card being compromised.

3.  Be Sure that the Airline or Hotel has a Record of Your Booking:  Before you set out on your trip make sure that you check with the airline and the hotel directly to make sure that you have a legitimate booking.

4.  Watch out for the airline ticket credit scam:  Airline tickets are bought with stolen credit cards by scam artists who then cancel the tickets and get a credit and confirmation number.  They then offer the ticket credit for sale online at a discounted price saying that they are unable to take the flight.  You will be asked to wire money to pay for the flight and when you try to use the credit with the airline you will not be allowed to as it was bought with a stolen credit card.  

5.  Make sure you read the refund or exchange policy on your airline tickets:  Make sure that your ticket allows for you to make changes or to cancel your trip, otherwise you will be paying fees to make changes.

6.  Make sure that you are aware of flight time changes:  Sometimes on-line booking sites save money by putting passengers on cheaper flights without warning them beforehand of the time changes.  These changes can affect the remainder of your journey causing missed connections. Make sure that you check directly with the airline for any flight or time changes or cancellations at least 24 hours before departure and ask them to notify you of any changes to your booking.

7.  Make sure that you know what currency is being used on the website:  It is easy for Canadians to think that they are paying in Canadian dollars when they are actually paying in US dollars which is a big price difference.   Make sure that you know if you can be charged more if the exchange rate changes.  Try and get a fixed price that is not affected by changes in the exchange rate.

From an article by The Travel Industry Council of Ontario

Travel Booking Scams and how to Avoid Them

By Randall Orser | Personal Finances , Scams

Summer is here and it’s time to think about getting away from it all.  We all know how scammers are trying to trick us at home, but did you know that they are also busy trying to scam you out of your trip? In a report from the Association of British Travel Agents Fraudsters conned UK holidaymakers out of approx. $12 million Can in 2018 with an average financial loss of approx. $2800 Can per person. Fraudsters are using more and more sophisticated methods to target destinations and popular times of the year when demand is high, and availability is limited. People are looking for a good deal, and once they find out that they have been conned, it can be difficult and expensive to get a legitimate booking.

Here are five major booking scams to watch for and how to avoid them:

1. Fake Websites That Look Real

About 53% of travel scams are related to the sale of airline tickets.  This can include booking on a fake site, receiving an imitation ticket or paying for a ticket that you never get.  These types of scams are also common with accommodation and package deals.  Often people do not check that a site is authentic before booking and some don’t even know how to check.  

Before paying a deposit make sure the web address is legitimate.  Check the domain name, .net or .org are rarely used for shopping sites.   Also check for https:// (rather than http://) which should always be on the payment page showing that the site is secure.  Other clues to a fraudulent website are misspellings, wrong words or characters, fuzzy or low-resolution pictures of logos, trade associations and payment and card companies.

2. Being Directed Away from Trusted Sites for Payment

Fraudsters lure people away from trusted sites and request payment on a separate site, often offering a better price.  Alarm bells should also ring if you are asked for payment via an online bank transfer.

You should never pay by online bank transfer, always pay by credit card as you will get more protection from fraud.  If you are scammed, paying by credit card will give you a better chance of getting your money back.   Keep all communications on trusted websites.

3. Avoid Pop-ups Advertising “Amazing Deals”

Unsolicited promotional emails can often look legit but will sometimes click through to a fake website.  Watch out for the tell-tale signs of a fake website, and definitely avoid fake competition scams, like the current ones by phone for Westjet and Marriott Hotels.

Validate deals by logging on directly to trusted websites.  Once you know that the deal is valid use that trusted website to make your bookings.  

4. Fake Accommodation Listings

Accommodation bookings account for 25% of all reported scams.  These scams can include luxury villas at discounted rates. Sometimes the villas do not exist and other times they are offered without the owner’s knowledge.  These scams happen most often with accommodations in France and Spain.

It pays to do your research to make sure that this is a real listing, contact the owner or agent directly and again minimize risks by booking through a trusted platform. 

5. Using Unsecured Networks While Away

Booking travel when away from home can be a major security concern as your private data can be exposed via clouds and wi-fi.  The majority of vacationers use wi-fi during their trip and many do not check the security of their internet connection despite getting pop-up warnings. Public wi-fi includes both secured and unsecured networks.  Unsecured networks can be connected without the use of a password or login.  Secured networks require you to register for an account or password before connecting.   

Avoid sharing sensitive data or bank information over unsecured networks. Consider using a VPN that will encrypt your data and to help keep your connection secure.

From an article in The Guardian International Edition

Places Where it Can be Risky to Swipe Your Debit Card

By Randall Orser | Personal Finances , Scams

Canada is among the biggest per capita users of debit cards in the world and more than 99% of transactions occur without incident every year.  We are lucky in Canada that we are protected by the Canadian Code of Practice for Consumer Debit Card Services and Interac policies.  This means that your financial institution must reimburse you in full if you are a victim of debit card fraud as long as you took reasonable care to keep your account and PIN safe.   

Financial institutions are continually upgrading card security to foil would be thieves, and the introduction of chip technology means that the store terminal and your card communicate with each other during the transaction and carry out security checks to ensure that the card is valid.  This technology is very difficult to duplicate, and it means that debit card fraud losses have dropped by 92%.  Despite this protection from your bank, you should still be extra vigilant when using your card in the following places.

Non-bank ATM’s - A favourite method of stealing debit card details is through card skimming.  This happens when you swipe your card through a skimming device in what you think is a legitimate transaction.  The skimmer retrieves your debit card information which the thief will get when he picks up the skimmer.  These devices are often placed on ATM’s which are not attached to a bank, especially those in gas stations, hotel lobbies, small stores, or any outdoor locations.  As the ATM’s are not owned by a bank, they are not always well monitored so become a target for thieves. 

Mobile Vendors - Thieves can pose as legitimate street vendors swiping your card through mobile card terminals when they are actually swiping your card through a skimming device.  You should be especially careful when using your card at events, street markets and other places where small businesses process card payments remotely.

Gas Stations - Skimmers are often found here as the readers are not always well monitored.  Before you swipe your card, give the terminal a slight tug and if it does not feel secure do not swipe your card.  You should pay for your gas inside or go to another gas station.  It is better to suffer the inconvenience rather than having to deal with debit card fraud.

Self-Checkout Lines - Self-checkout lines in major retailers are also a prime target.  Skimming devices are placed over the card readers often by a team of thieves one watching the camera while one places the skimmer over the card reader.  Your information can also be stolen remotely using Bluetooth technology.  Once they have your information it can be used to create clone cards, or scan be sold on old to others for fraudulent purchases.

How you can find out quickly if your debit card has been compromised

Your bank will usually investigate if they see any unusual activity on your card and you will often be reimbursed before you even know it has happened. However, it is a good idea to continually (at least once a week) monitor your bank account so that you can report anything suspicious immediately.  Your current bank card can then be cancelled and a new one issued with a new number and PIN number.  

To try and minimize your losses consider regularly changing your PIN number, keeping only a small amount of money in your checking account and turning off any overdraft protection.  You are not liable for any fraudulent charges, but it can be a hassle dealing with debit card fraud. 

Tips to Keep Your Credit Card Safe

By Randall Orser | Personal Finances , Scams

Today, more than ever it is crucial to keep your credit card information safe.  How often do you think about the safety of your credit card transactions and what you can do to guard against theft?            

Here are some precautions to consider:

  1. As soon as you receive a new card sign the back for more protection should your card ever be stolen.
  2. Make sure that you don’t let anyone see your PIN (personal identification number) when you put it into a card reader or ATM. Always choose a number that you will remember.  Do not use birthdays, phone numbers, social insurance numbers or family names, and NEVER write the number down and save it in your wallet.
  3. Do not give out your credit card information to a caller.  Make sure that you initiate the call and know that you are dealing with a legitimate business. Never give out your number over a cordless phone as these can be scanned easily and cheaply by radio scanners.
  4. Make sure that you always get your card back after you use it and that you watch the sales person as they are processing your purchase.
  5. Always check your monthly statement and make sure that the charges are all yours.
  6. Destroy any voided or cancelled sales receipts yourself and cut up expired credit cards.
  7. Keep a list of your credit card numbers and toll-free numbers and keep it in a safe place so that you have it should you need to contact the credit card company to report a lost or stolen card.
  8. If your credit card is lost or stolen report it immediately to limit your liability.

If you are using your credit card for online purchases, follow these guidelines to avoid credit card fraud and identity theft.

  1. Only use websites that you trust. Don’t click on links in unsolicited emails as they could lead you to a fake website which has been set up to steal your information.  The safest way is to go directly to the website by typing the URL in in your web browser.
  2. Don’t make online credit card purchases from public places.  As public computers are less secure there is more chance of your information being stolen.  You are not safe even if you are using your own computer in a coffee shop, hackers have access to the same wi-fi signal and can intercept your information. 
  3. Make sure that your home computer is protected by the latest up to date anti-virus and anti-spyware from a reputable company.  Do not use anti-virus software advertised in a pop-up ad or from a link in an email.
  4. Check the reputation of a business with the Better Business Bureau if you have never bought from them before.  Do not use your credit card at any website with a poor customer service record.   
  5. Never give out more than the normally required personal information such as your address and phone number. Do not give out your social insurance number. If the site seems to be asking for more than the normal amount of information log out and don’t use it.  
  6. Make sure that the credit card entry page that you are using is secure.  To do this, check the URL in your browser bar. Secure sites have addresses starting with https:// and there should be a lock or a seal in the bottom right corner. 
  7. Avoid leaving your credit card information on the website for future purchases.  Although this is more convenient, if the site is hacked then your information could be compromised.  
  8. Always print your online purchase receipts and make sure that the amount that you are billed matches the amount on your credit card statement.
  9. Think about using a credit card with a a small credit limit to buy online.  If your account is compromised criminals will not have access to thousands of dollars.

Online shopping can be a treasure trove for fraudsters as the securities that are present when you buy at a brick and mortar store are not present online, such as using your pin number to verify your purchase.   So, it is best to take precautions to avoid the hassle of fraudulent charges and your account being compromised.

This Holiday Season – Shop Safely Online

By Randall Orser | holiday season , Personal Finances , Scams

During the holiday season millions are using online purchasing to avoid those hectic shopping malls.  However online shopping is different, you cannot meet the retailer or handle the goods prior to buying, and you cannot keep an eye on your credit card information.  Here are some safety tips to keep in mind when online shopping.

  • Know who you are dealing with – most of us shop with well-known retailers but if you are not sure about them check for their name, address, telephone and fax numbers on their website so you have their contact information.  Also check for quality assurance certificates or seals.
  • Look for websites that offer a lot of information about their products as you have to rely on their descriptions because you cannot touch or try on anything prior to purchasing.
  • Calculate the total cost of the goods and make sure to include shipping costs and duties if applicable to avoid any surprises when your purchase is delivered.
  • Read the terms and conditions of the sale.  These should be provided by the merchant in plain language and should include a description of the goods, the price, payment methods, delivery options, guarantees and warranties, return policies and your options if the goods do not arrive.  The merchant website should also include a simple process for handling complaints and inquiries and if applicable who is responsible for after-sales service.
  • Make sure you are comfortable with how merchants use your information.  Some use it to develop marketing profiles or sell it to others.  Before they do this, they should ask for your consent.  Reputable merchants will always publish their privacy policy.  If there is no privacy policy, you should think twice about buying anything.
  • Before providing financial information make sure the merchant has a secure transaction system.  Most internet browsers indicate when you are using a secure link. This will either be an icon, often a lock at the bottom of the screen or in the address bar of your browser, or if the website begins with https:// the s indicates that it is secure.
  • Be careful when buying from auctions as when you are buying from a private individual consumer protection laws do not protect you.  Read the rules of the auction site the better ones will have records of customer satisfaction and a system to resolve disputes.
  • Buying internationally might give you a good price but it involves more risk. Make sure you calculate the price with shipping and duties allowing for currency conversions and check that the goods meet Canadian safety standards.
  • If an offer sounds too good to be true stay away from it.  This includes a promise of a valuable prize for a low-cost purchase and any offer asking you to send money before you get the special deal.

With all this in mind, have a happy online shopping season!