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Beware, weary traveler: Hotels are hotbeds for credit card fraud

Matt Schulz

Next time you travel, remember this: Hotels are always a hotspot for credit card fraud scams.

Since I’ve spent my share of time traveling over the past few months — for everything from a college buddy’s wedding to a family trip to Disney World — stories about credit card scams at hotels have caught my eye recently. Though the scams feature different clever tactics, each has the same intent: getting a hold of a tourist’s credit card info.

And they all drive the point home that no matter how tired you are from travel, no matter how crabby your toddler, no matter how sunburned you get waiting in line at the water park, you need to keep your guard up when you’re traveling.

Here’s a look at two of the latest scams to hit hotels:

The 3 a.m. phone call
phone-call-in-hotel-bed.jpg reports that guests at a Hilton Garden Inn in Dallas recently were called in the middle of the night by someone claiming to be a hotel employee. The person told the sleepy tourist that she would need to provide the hotel with her credit card information again, thanks to a computer glitch that wiped out the hotel’s records.

According to MSNBC, the person on the phone “said he had to call because they needed to finish their audit by 3 a.m.” Then the hotel guest was given the option of providing the card information over the phone or in the lobby. The hotel guest wisely chose the latter option. She called, bleary-eyed, down to the lobby, and was told that several other guests had gotten the same call.

Reports prompted the Better Business Bureau to post an article about the scam on their national website late last month. Since then, the word has spread throughout the nation — from North Carolina  to Washington state. The Associated Press reports that Rhode Island’s attorney general even issued a warning about the scam earlier this month.

Lesson learned: Hotel employees don’t call guests for their credit card information — and certainly not in the wee hours. If someone calls you asking for this information, hang up and call the lobby yourself.

The fake pizza flier
disney-castle.jpgAnyone who’s spent any time in a hotel knows that fliers and solicitations — for tourist attractions, restaurants, whatever — are always part of the scenery. They’re usually harmless, even helpful, but that wasn’t the case earlier this year at hotels around Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

Fraudsters had been distributing bogus pizza menus and fliers with the intent of stealing credit card information. I never saw the fliers when I visited Disney with my family in May, but reportedly the scam worked like this: A hotel guest finds a slick-looking flier with an 800-number and a great deal on a pizza. The guest, weary of hotel food, calls the number and provides his name, room number and credit card information. However, no pizza ever arrives, and tourists may have their “hotel rooms burglarized, their identities stolen and even become victims of credit card fraud,” according to a report in the Orlando Sentinel.

It was such a problem that a bill was created to “clamp down on people who illegally distribute pizza menus and other fliers in hotels,” according to the Sentinel. The bill passed the Florida House and Senate in May, was signed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott and took effect on June 2, 2011. Under the new law, someone who distributes “handbills at public lodging establishments ” without written permission of the hotel or motel faces at least a $2,000 fine for a second offense or $3,000 for a third. Those are hardly Mickey Mouse sums and they prove just how seriously they take their tourism in Florida.

Lesson learned: If you’re traveling, be wary of random fliers. Taking just a moment to confirm a phone number — whether through your smart phone, a phone book or even a concierge or other hotel employee — can save you and your family some major headaches.

Of course, those are just two of the myriad messes that can involve your plastic when you’re traveling. However, the best way to steer clear of these and any other credit card-related troubles when you’re on the road is to simply be alert and trust yourself. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is – even in Disney World. If a situation doesn’t feel right, even if you can’t put your finger on why, just walk away. Your family — and your credit card account — will likely be better off as a result.

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