Avoid Social Media Travel Scams

Many of my friends travel around the country for endurance events. We're always looking for a way to save on our trips.  

Recently, a friend of mine invited me to an event on Facebook.  The event's name was "American Airlines Trip Giveaway," and it touted that the airline was giving away a free round trip ticket to anywhere in the US in honor of the airline's anniversary.

Only, it wasn't from American Airlines. It was a fake event, set up by a fake page, to lure people into registering.

All too often, there are fake pages for travel companies, and they promote fake giveaways that you "enter" in by liking their page, joining an event, or sharing a photo.  These fake contests happen on all social media platforms, but especially appear on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

These pages and accounts often look real. They use real photos from the airline, hotel chain, or theme park, taking stock photos from the Internet.

The reality is that no airline is giving away free tickets on social media.  Walt Disney World is not giving away free park passes.  No cruise line is giving away a free vacation on Facebook.

Scammers use these pages to gather thousands of likes, and then can switch the page to a different company to market to the duped followers.  Some scammers will try to get you to fill out a fake survey to enter their scam contest, then use or sell your contact information to spammers or mass marketers.  Victims can be sent malware to infect their computers, or have their personal information compromised.

How to Spot a Social Media Travel Scam

1) The account or page offering the giveaway does not have the markings showing they are an official account.

All major airlines, hotel chains, and theme parks have the official blue check mark by their Facebook page name or by their Twitter account, showing that it is the official account of the business.  If you do not see this, it's a fake account.  If the social media platform does not have a means to designate an official account, check the business's website for the official social media accounts. 

The real Southwest Airlines page on Facebook has the verified page check mark.

The real Southwest Airlines account on Twitter also has a verification check mark.

2) The post and/or page has misspelled words, poor English, or bad grammar.

An example of a fake Disney contest.  Notice the poor grammar, sentence structure and punctuation.

3) There is no mention of official contest rules and regulations.
Any major legit contest or raffle will have a clear list of participation rules, including age and residency requirements. 

4) The page/account has a very small number of followers and very few posts. 
For example, a fake Walt Disney World page that claimed to offer a free vacation to those who shared a photo had just 1,000 followers.  The real Walt Disney World page has over 14 million.  Pages that are recently created are another scam clue. 

5) The words "giveaways" or "contest" are a part of the account username or page name.
No major business opens a separate account just for giveaways.

6) If you get a message that you won a contest that you never entered- it is a scam.
Sometimes these scammers will message you that you've won, and you need to fill out a brief survey to collect your prize (this is how they get your personal information).  

7) No contest will ever ask you to make a purchase before you can get a prize.  
The scammers are asking for your personal information or your credit card to steal your identity (and your money). 

Signs of a fake/scam page: very few likes for a major company, bad grammar, and a page name that is not the business name.

If a friend or family member likes, follows or joins a fake giveaway, let them know it's phony so they can remove their social media connection to the fake account, event or page.  Report the offending page, account or event, so that it can be shut down.

It's not just fake airline or theme park ticket contests that circulate online.   Other hoaxes have included getting people to share a photo of a winning lottery ticket, claiming the money would be shared with one of the people that liked it; a fake contest claiming one of the "likes" would win a car; and "share a photo to win an Ipad" scams.

Always remember- if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.