Imagine for a moment that you've won the vacation of a lifetime. But wait. You don't remember entering any sweepstakes or appearing on any game shows. So, how did you end up with a free trip to someplace tropical? That free vacation is likely a scam designed to part you from your time and money. Here's how these scams work and how to avoid them.
Scenario 1: The Timeshare Push
Some free vacation scams involve a "short" meeting before you can claim your prize. However, these meetings are often long sales pitches for a timeshare. Yes, these may be legitimate timeshare offers, but the free vacation can only be claimed if you buy into the timeshare or use the travel certificate on specific dates alongside exorbitant fees. Doesn't sound so free, does it?
Scenario 2: The Tax or Fee Stipulation
Winning a free vacation comes with taxes and other fees, right? Maybe. You usually pay the taxes to the IRS, not some unknown company. With the tax or fee stipulation scam, the company issuing the free vacation will require you to pay the taxes upfront and/or pay a fee to process the prize. This is often done with a credit card. After you pay the fees, you'll never hear from the company again. And they'll have your credit card information. If you fall for this crime, cancel your credit card immediately and dispute the charge if possible.
How to Avoid Free Vacation Scams
If something sounds too good to be true, it likely is. Follow these tips to protect your credit and identity from vacation or sweepstakes scams.
- Unless you recall entering the contest, ignore emails or letters claiming you have won something.
- Never pay a fee or tax to an unknown company before a prize can be processed.
- Don't sign up for a timeshare or travel club membership to win a prize.
- Don't share your credit card information to claim a free vacation.
- Never pay a company with gift cards.
- Always read the fine print and do your research before buying or paying for anything.