Congresswoman calls on FTC to tackle booking scam sites

Though it is a gross mistake, misplacing guest reservations happens on occasion in the hospitality industry. But will you be prepared for when a guest books a deal so good you didn't even offer it?

The Federal Trade Commission is being called into action to monitor and dispose of fake hotel booking sites. WPTV reported that Congresswoman Lois Frankel (D-Florida) is leading the charge, striking out at scam sites that hurt hotels, travelers and local economies.

“People need to be very, very careful who they're giving their information to,” Frankel told WPTV. “Because once these people disappear and they have your information, who knows where it's going to go."

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According to ABC 17, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) penned a letter to the FCC in late May that urged action against fake booking websites for hotels and travel destinations. These websites often repurpose photos from real websites and offer deals far below the market average. In the process they acquire personal information and credit card numbers.

"What grabs [guests] in, what grabs their attention are low prices for accommodations. You know, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," Mike Harrison at the Better Business Bureau told ABC 17. Harrison said checking website URLs is one of the most effective ways to determine a fake. Guests could also call the hotel and confirm the information they are seeing is real.

"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."

In a statement, the American Hotel & Lodging Association said every year customers are lured into making fraudulent reservations at websites and call centers that have no legal relation to hotels, despite their appearances and claims.

"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."

Hotels also could be slapped with bad reviews from irate travelers, even if there was no wrongdoing. 

"What it does is it creates a negative impression of our destination and even though it has nothing to do with the destination itself people have a bad memory of their experience here in Palm Beach County and that's not a good thing for us or anybody," Rick Rose, manager of the Grandview Gardens Bed & Breakfast in West Palm Beach told WPBF 25

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