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Lawmakers urge FTC to investigate online booking scams

Booking trips online is easier than ever but it can be hard to know if you’re booking with the right people and not scammers.

Online booking scams are not uncommon, but they are receiving a renewed interest.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, wrote a letter to the Federal Trade Commission in late May urging it to begin investigating scammers who create fake websites for hotels and travel booking sites.

While the FTC has not confirmed whether or not it will start any specific investigations, it is monitoring complaints.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association has been working to get Washington to take action on these scams for months.

“AH&LA applauds the recent actions by the FTC to warn consumers about rogue online booking websites that are deliberately deceiving consumers by posing as the hotel’s direct booking site,” Katherine Lugar, the association’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “These scams leave consumers out in the cold, causing them to not get what they wanted or paid for, and leaving them to deal with everything from additional room charges, cancellation fees or service charges and accessibility problems. ”

The Association said these scams cost consumers about $228 million every year.

These scammers set up fake travel and hotel websites to lure consumers who are looking for the best deals.

Often they’ll even lift photos from the real website.

“What grabs them in, what grabs their attention are low prices for accommodations. You know, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” said Mike Harrison at the Better Business Bureau.

Often the deals are too good to be true, and the scammers will add on hidden fees or refuse to return deposits.

They also wind up with access to personal information and credit card numbers.

Experts said you should be extra cautious. Harrison said one way to find out if a website is legitimate is to check the URL.

“In the web address you’re looking for where it says http, you want an s on the end of that just to show that it’s a secure website,” he said. “You’re looking for a lock icon somewhere on the screen, typically in that web address field.”

Harrison said another tip is to just find the phone number of the hotel and personally double check.

“If you see something online, call them and say ‘I saw this deal online. Is it legitimate? Can you price match it? Let’s go ahead and book over the phone,'” he said.

Harrison tells ABC17 the BBB hasn’t had any recent complaints against sites in mid-Missouri but stresses that doesn’t mean there aren’t any.

The FTC has released tips to help you stay better informed as a traveler.

If you do experience a fake hotel reservation scam, you can contact the FTC, the BBB, or the attorney general’s office.

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