3OYS: Travel industry riddled with scams

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PHOENIX -- Using the Internet to book a vacation or hotel room has become the norm, in fact $145 billion is spent online just for travel. But consumers need to beware of scams in the travel industry. They've become such a problem that hotel leaders from across the nation are meeting on Capitol Hill on Thursday in hopes of getting lawmakers to do something.

"We had the Super Bowl and the Pro Bowl this year as well as a great tourism season." Kristen Jarnagin is with the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association and says tourism has been pretty kind to Arizona. "We also have the National Football Championship and the NCAA final 4 in 2017."

Jarnagin knows a thing or two about tourism and goes on to say, "Mobile and online booking is a multi-billion dollar a year business." But with spring break and summer vacations coming up Kristen says the tourism industry is unfortunately full of rip-offs and those scams usually start when a consumer contacts what's considered a "third-party vendor."

"The biggest problem we're seeing is when people do book through these third-party vendors is because they thought they booked through the hotel, they show up at the hotel and the room isn't what they were expecting."

And sometimes consumers don't have a room at all even though they paid that third-party vendor. So who are these third-party vendors? Jarnagin says, "These are not reputable companies we deal with, the hotel industry deals with on a regular basis."

The American Hotel and Lodging Association targets a number of websites practicing deceptive advertising. One website they specifically mention is ReservationCounter.Com. 3 On Your Side found 155 complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau against that company.

According to Jarnagin, "They're being very deceptive. When you call they even have reservation call centers and they'll answer the phone as though they're the hotel themselves."

3 On Your Side began investigating ReservationCounter.Com. One morning we found their toll-free number, later in the afternoon that toll-free number changed to something else. Then it changed again. Jarnagin added, "It's a constant cat and mouse game with our industry trying to keep track of these companies and as soon as we find them we do cease and desist letters."

3 On Your Side emailed ReservationCounter.Com but did not get a response.

Many third-party vendors who manage to stay under the radar all have the same traits. However, their goal is the same, to get in your wallet.

Jarnagin recommends if you book online you make sure you're not dealing with a third-party vendor posing as a legitimate hotel, resort or even a website. "What we're trying to do is raise awareness to the public so that first of all you're not taken advantage of and secondly to the congressional delegation and the federal trade commission so they can start to investigate these kinds of businesses and shut them down before they even open."

The American Hotel and Lodging Association is meeting with congress as well as the Federal Trade Commission on Thursday in hopes of stopping these rip-offs from happening.

As a consumer, it's up to you to do your homework and make sure you're not dealing with a third-party vendor.



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