Canada | Fraud

5 common vacation scams you need to be aware of 

Sometimes, it’s hard to tell whether an unsolicited trip or time-share deal is legitimate. Here’s how to recognize travel-related fraud. 

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Frustrated passenger waits alone within an airportIn 2018 alone, 37 victims were reportedly involved in vacation scams, with losses of more than $54,000 (Getty Images/mikkelwilliam)

As March break approaches, many Canadians are looking forward to escaping the last vestiges of winter and heading out to sunnier climes. So when we get a call from a high-pressure salesperson promising a sunny deal in an idyllic locale at a fraction of the price we would normally pay, it can sound almost irresistible. 

But how can we know if the deal is for real? Sometimes, it’s not easy to tell [See These smart tips will protect you from common vacation scams for more] 

“And that’s the problem—you don’t know whether it’s above board until you get there,” says Lisanne Roy Beauchamp, call centre operations supervisor at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. In 2018 alone, 37 victims were reportedly involved in vacation scams, with losses of more than $54,000. And 55 people fell victim to timeshare scams, with losses amounting to more than $1.5 million.

KNOW YOUR VACATION SCAMS 

The CAFC estimates that the numbers of victims and losses in its reports represent less than five per cent of the actual totals. To help you stay vigilant, here are some examples of vacation and time-share scams. 

FAKE FREE OR ‘DISCOUNTED’ VACATIONS

In these cases, fraudsters offer free or discounted vacations using legitimate company names, such as Expedia, Air Canada, Transat or WestJet. You get a cold call congratulating you for having won a contest (one you didn’t even enter).

Alternatively, you might be told that as a preferred customer, you have been given a credit or discount on a destination vacation—as long as you book right away. If you continue with the call, you’ll be asked to provide personal information as well as a credit card number to guarantee the trip. 

SHAM TICKET RE-SALES

In these scams, fraudsters advertise a purchased vacation for sale on familiar websites such as Kijiji or Craigslist. If interested, you contact the seller and agree to buy the package (which might include airline tickets and accommodations). The fraudster says you have to pay in full before the tickets are transferred. Once you get to the airport, you’re told that the tickets aren’t valid. 

PHONEY POINTS REWARDS

Here, fraudsters pretend to represent a company with a points plan, such as Air Miles. You receive an automated telephone call advising you that you have won a prize worth thousands in reward points. You are then told to provide personal information, your Collector PIN or credit card information. Once you give out the information, the fraudster steals the cash or reward points. 

VACATION RENTAL FRAUD

This involves posting a destination property for rent online using common sites such as Kijiji or Craigslist. The scam starts when you see the ad while searching for a rental apartment or home in your desired destination. (Fraudsters’ ads always list a rental cost that is considerably lower.)

When you contact the renter, you’re asked to pay a deposit, often by wire transfer. Once you get to the property, you find that the rental doesn’t exist, that the condition has been misrepresented or that it was never available for rent in the first place.

TIME-SHARE SCAMS

There are two types of time-share scams. In the first, companies lure potential customers with free stays at a time-share in exchange for sitting through a presentation. But problems can arise once you agree to buy the property. In some cases, there are hidden booking or maintenance fees, and in more extreme cases, companies suddenly go out of business once they secure a hefty deposit.  

In the second scam, the fraudster calls with an offer to sell the potential victim’s time-share. The fraudster promises a quick sale with a high profit margin. Various fees are requested up front before the final sale, including maintenance, escrow and taxes. Victims are required to transfer funds to bank accounts in a foreign country through a bank-to-bank wire transfer.

LEARN MORE ABOUT FRAUD

CPA Canada has a number of resources that can help, including It’s always scam season, The big scammers can ruin your life and your business and Protecting you and your money: A guide to avoiding identity theft and fraud.

To organize a fraud protection session in your community, see how a CPA Canada volunteer can help.