I am a savvy traveler who, I’d like to think, wouldn’t fall for any scams but sadly, that’s not always the case. I’ve fallen for multiple scams, mostly years ago when I’d just started traveling the world. The worst was when I fell for a bar scam in Budapest and because of that experience, I didn’t fall for a similar tea scam in China. So I’ve learned from my mistakes and now I learn from the mistakes of others.

Unfortunately, these days, it’s difficult to keep up with all of the cons out there, so I just try to learn about them (and more importantly, remember them) whenever I compile the travel news for the day. Believe it or not, it takes me a couple of hours just to sift through the day’s news.

Today, I learned about a new travel scam thanks to an Orlando Sentinel article entitled: Renting a car? Beware of scammers with too-good-to-be-true prices

As you are probably aware, rental car prices are through the roof this year because the rental car companies sold off most of their fleets to stay afloat when the pandemic began. Then, when travel had an unexpected surge in March, there was a global computer chip shortage, making it impossible for car makers to roll out as many new cars as they used to.

In some markets, ahem Hawaii, you would be lucky to even find a car, even something that costs hundreds of dollars a day! Rental cars are already sold out in the islands for the holidays and other popular leisure destinations.

RELATED: 15 Tips For Renting a Car in 2021

“Last month, the FTC shared a warning that rental car scams are on the rise. Looking to take advantage of record-high prices, fake websites are popping up, offering rental cars for cheap. The sites then ask the buyer to use a gift card or pre-paid debit card to pay for the vehicle. The FTC received more than 2,000 complaints nationwide regarding rental cars in the first three months of 2021. A search of the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker gave examples of people calling what they believed to be national car companies, ordering cars over the phone, only to have no car at any rental office when they arrive.”

Jonathan Weinberg, CEO of AutoSlash told the Orlando Sentinel “they really didn’t exist before this year” and “It’s only because folks are desperate and prices are so high right now in many cases.”

Whenever there’s desperation, there are scammers ready to take advantage of people. This is true for many things but especially for travel.

Fortunately, the FTC has some tips for avoiding rental car scammers driving off with your money:

Research the rental car company by searching for the name of the company and words like “scam,” “complaint,” or “review” to check if other people have had a bad experience.

Verify deals with the company directly. If you need customer support, look for contact info on the company’s official website. Don’t use a search engine result. Scammers can pay to place sponsored ads in search results, so they show up at the top or in the sponsored ad section.

Pay with a credit card if possible, and never pay with a gift card or prepaid debit card. You can dispute credit card charges, but gift cards and prepaid debit cards can disappear like cash. Once you give the number and PIN to a scammer, the money is gone.

Before you rush to book that miraculously available rental car, take a beat and read up about things you should consider when renting a car. If you spot a rental car scam, tell the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.”

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