New bill tackles booking scam sites

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New actions are taking place to crack down on online booking scams for hotels. Last year, Congresswoman Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) began formulating a plan to deal with fake booking sites, and now she is being joined by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) in the fight.

This pairing has produced the "Stop Online Booking Scams Act," which will require full disclosure for third-party hotel reservation websites, and violators can expect to have their websites shut down and face fines of up to $11,000. Under the law, state attorneys will also have more tools to go after fraudulent websites and the process of reporting fake sites to the Federal Trade Commission is streamlined.

This is a necessary step for the industry, as aside from travelers being conned out of their money and hotels stays, operators end up dealing with unhappy guests. Times are good now for the industry, but keeping guest satisfaction high is what will ensure repeat bookings during a downturn, something that can suffer at the hands of a counterfeit booking.

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"So many Americans conscientiously save for their vacations and are deeply disappointed when they discover they have been victims of a crime," Ros-Lehtinen told Sunshine State News. "Congress should do all it can to crack down on these perpetrators of fraud who take advantage of both families and the businesses the websites impersonate."

"Booking a hotel room for a dream vacation should not lead to a nightmare," Frankel said. "This bill will reduce fraud and give law enforcement more tools to protect travelers."

The effort is being praised by the American Hotel & Lodging Association, which claims 15 million hotel bookings and $1.3 billion are stolen by fake booking sites each year. 

"Our research clearly shows that consumers are worried about scams when booking online with third parties—and rightly so, because many of them have personally experienced very serious, horrible situations. This legislation is sorely needed to protect against any more consumers falling victim to this kind of unscrupulous activity," Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of AH&LA, said in a release.
 
"The hotel industry is encouraged by today’s Congressional efforts to help protect consumers through this bipartisan legislation. We applaud their foresight and initiative to putting an end to fraudulent websites posing as the hotel’s online portal."

In the absence of a law governing these websites, the best way for hotels to fight back is through customer service. Keeping open channels of discussion between guests can mean the difference in recovering future bookings.

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