Here’s something you should know, the travel site Booking.com does not offer gift cards, so if somebody, purportedly from that firm, asks you to pay with a prepaid gift card, hang up and refuse to do so. The scammers who are using that scheme encourage you to pay with a Google Play gift card instead and then rip you off. In fact, don’t fall for anyone from any firm urging you to pay with a prepaid gift card that you have to purchase first.
The Better Business Bureau Serving Western Michigan (BBB) is warning consumers of this growing scam that is costing some travelers hundreds of dollars. The criminals are impersonating major brands, hoping to confuse travelers into making unnecessary payments, often asking customers to pay with a prepaid gift card.
A growing number of complaints to BBB involve scammers impersonating Booking.com. Complaints allege the consumer thought they were reaching out to Booking.com to make a change to their travel plans or get a refund. Often the consumer finds the phone number online through a search or on social media. The person answering the phone identifies themselves as working for Booking.com. They tell the customer that to complete the change the customer must go to the store and purchase hundreds of dollars worth of prepaid gift cards. The impersonators promise the money will be refunded. Once the payment has been given the scammers find a reason to ask for more money, often claiming the card didn’t work.
Phil Catlett is President of the BBB serving West Michigan. He says, “Scammers are finding new ways to take advantage of people,” and adds, “It is important that consumers question anything that doesn’t sound right.”
Alex from Texas tells BBB, “I wanted to change my reservation. In order to change my reservation, they told me I had to make a transaction in the same amount of that reservation. But in order to do that, I must go to the store and buy a ‘booking.com’ gift card. Well, of course, those don’t exist, so they told me that a Google Play gift card would work too. So I did so, and allegedly the codes didn’t work. So, I had to buy another set of gift cards and they promised it would work this time, but you’re getting the picture, it didn’t work.”
Melissa in Pennsylvania has a similar story; “On June 7th I called Booking.com to cancel and was told their server couldn’t take any major credit cards, therefore, I had to buy a hotels.com gift card to pay for the room. No problem, I bought one for the amount of the room. For some reason, that card wasn’t sufficient, and I had to buy two $500 gift cards. (Apparently not from the same place.) After I bought those and called them back, I was told I needed to buy another $1,000 of cards to receive my reimbursement from them.”
Catlett says, “Gift cards are a great way to pay for some things, but they also make it easy for scammers,” noting, “Customers should use caution any time a business insists you go out and purchase gift cards to pay for a service.”
It’s important to note that none of these customers actually spoke with Booking.com. Instead, the customers were tricked into calling scammers who are impersonating the site. Booking.com is a Better Business Bureau Accredited Business. In response to customers and the Better Business Bureau, the company notes that it is one of several companies being targeted by impostors. The company says its own investigation has found impostors have created fake customer service numbers and posted them online in hopes of luring in travelers who are searching for a way to contact Booking.com. The company has the following advice for consumers:
- Only contact Booking.com through our official communication channels listed on our website and/or apps…
- No legitimate transaction (e.g. payments and/or reservation changes) with Booking.com will ever require you to specifically pay with gift cards or require you to give your credit card details by phone, text message or email…
- Never provide any credit card or gift card details (such as the claim code) to someone you don’t know/trust…
Furthermore, you should report your experience to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ftc.gov.
The Better Business Bureau also recommends customers be specific when they look for business contact information. BBB has received reports from across the country from consumers who thought they were communicating with a major company, only to later learn they were dealing with a third party who had a similar phone number or web address.
Victims tell BBB they have found the fake contact information through popular search engines or on social media, where scammers have created fake accounts impersonating popular brands. In many cases the customer paid for a service they did not need, or could have received at a lower price from the original company. Customers can always search for a company at bbb.org, which lists verified contact information for companies across the U.S., Canada and parts of Mexico.