Vacation scams target people trying to unwind, often using low prices — or even free trips — as bait to steal your money or personal information.  When booking your next vacation, steer clear of any deals that seem too good to be true, high-pressure sales tactics (especially those for a timeshare or vacation membership), or companies that require you to pay using wire transfer, gift card, or peer-to-peer payment app. 

Everyone dreams of a relaxing vacation, but it’s important not to let visions of a sunny summer cloud your judgment when it comes to spotting a scam.

According to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC), more than 55,000 cases of travel, vacation, and timeshare scams were reported that year, draining $122 million from victims, and earning a spot among the top 10 types of fraud reported in 2023.

Types of vacation scams

Vacation scams come in all shapes and sizes. Some prey on people’s desire to get away for some rest and relaxation, luring victims in with irresistible deals that prove to be too good to be true.

Others take advantage of vacationers’ lowered guard while they’re unplugged from daily life.

Stay safe from clever schemes like these by planning your next getaway with these common types of vacation and travel scams in mind. 

Free vacation scams

Imagine receiving an email, flyer in the mail, or text saying “Congratulations! You’re eligible for a free all-inclusive trip to Hawaii.”

While it might seem like it’s your lucky day unfortunately, it’s more likely that you’re the target of a potential scam than the winner of an epic deal.

In some cases, a fraudster uses the promise of a free trip to steal your money outright. They may say you need to send a small one-time fee to cover travel expenses or taxes to claim the prize — money that you won’t get back.

Alternatively, they may say that the vacation will be yours once you fill out a form with your personal information which they can then use to commit identity theft.

In other scams, the cruise or vacation may be legit but there are a host of undisclosed fees that the recipient gets roped into paying once accepting the offer.  

Quick Tips

Red flags of “free” vacation scams

  • You’re told you won a sweepstakes for a trip you didn’t enter to win.  

  • You receive an unsolicited offer for a vacation deal from a company you’ve never heard of.  

  • You’re told you must “act now” to claim the offer.  

  • The offer doesn’t include important details like that it’s with a “five-star” cruise line but not the company name. 


Fake rental scams

Home-share websites like Airbnb and Vrbo have may have changed the travel game but they’re unfortunately not immune to scammers.

These sites — as well as Craigslist and even websites for fake rental agencies — may list phony rentals priced “too good to be true” low. In some cases, the listing information is stolen from a legitimate website; in others, it’s completely fabricated.

Regardless, the goal is to collect your money for a rental that doesn’t exist or isn’t available when you think it will be.

Quick Tips

Red flags of fake rental scams

  • The rental’s price is substantially lower than any other rentals in the area.  

  • You’re pressured to pay on the side.  

  • You can’t pay with your credit card.  

  • You can’t find reviews about the renter or rental company. 

Travel document scams

Travel document scams target people gearing up for international travel. A bad actor may advertise expedited delivery of travel documents like a passport or visa, or just offer passport application services for a fee higher than you’d pay through the U.S. Department of State.

It could also involve international driving permits, allowing you to drive in foreign countries using your U.S.-issued driver’s license. A fraudster may provide the document, but at a higher fee than you’d need to pay going through an official government agency. Alternatively, they might pocket your money then provide a phony document, putting you at risk for trouble with foreign law enforcement.

These scams are often advertised online, appearing when you perform a web search like “Where do I get a passport?” or “How to get an international driver’s permit?”

They’re especially risky because if you disclose personal information, like your Social Security number, when applying for travel documents, a scammer could use that information commit identity theft and/or financial fraud.

Quick Tips

Red flags of travel document scams

  • You’re applying through a third-party provider; The U.S. Department of State is the safest and most secure place to obtain travel documents. You can also safely acquire international driving permits through the American Automobile Association (AAA). 

  • The company charges fees higher than what you’d pay going through a federal agency like the U.S. Department of State.  

  • You’re asked to pay using a risky method, such as a wire transfer or peer-to-peer payment app.  

Timeshare and timeshare exit scams

Though timeshares aren’t illegal, they can sometimes hit you and your bank account as hard as a full-fledged scam.

In some cases, a person shells out thousands of dollars to sign up for a timeshare — or “vacation club” or “travel club membership” — only to find out that the properties are never available or aren’t of the quality they were promised.

Timeshare owners are also often blindsided by the amount of money they have to sink into “maintenance fees” every year, as well as by how difficult it is to terminate a contract for a timeshare.

In fact, timeshare exit scams have emerged in recent years to prey on how notoriously difficult timeshares are to get out of. In these scams, a company promises to end a timeshare contract, oftentimes easing your doubts with a “money-back guarantee.” They may charge thousands of dollars upfront for the service then cut correspondence entirely or never follow through, leaving you out the money you paid — and still with timeshare ownership.

Though not all timeshares or travel club memberships are a scam, many come with fees that aren’t disclosed during the sales process, which can be fast moving and pressure filled.

If you’re considering investing in a timeshare, take your time and make sure you fully understand the financial commitment you’d be making if you were to invest in one.  

Quick Tips

Red flags of a timeshare scam

  • You’re pressured while on vacation. 

  • You’re promised a “money-back guarantee.” 

  • You’re required to pay for timeshare exit assistance upfront.  

How to avoid vacation scams — and what to do if you’ve been scammed

In general, keep in mind that planning a vacation takes research. When you’re booking a trip, use reputable websites and companies and take time to verify that they’re legitimate by checking reviews and ratings.

Be suspicious of any major discounts and never pay for a vacation — or for travel documents — using a payment method that doesn’t offer fraud protection.

If you suspect that you’ve fallen victim to a vacation scam and are a member of Allstate Identity Protection, let us know. Should your identity have been compromised, we can help restore it.