January 23, 2012

January 23, 2012
3 Classic Cruise Ship Rip Offs to Avoid

Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Monday and I hope you had a safe and great week. It has been another busy one for Dab the AIDS Bear and me. But luckily, Todd is home and on the mend. He just has to do a couple of antibiotics, a nebulizer and drink lots of liquids. Now if I can just get him to rest.

Recently, I have been doing blogs about traveling including cruises. Like any travel industry, you have to watch out for scams. So today I am going to blog about scams in the cruise industry. How to spot and avoid high-seas vacation hoaxes.

With the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster fresh on the minds of millions of Americans, do not be surprised if scammers try to turn it to their advantage. They love nothing more than a news event that they can use to cheat you.

So, in the weeks ahead, watch out for calls and emails from crooks claiming they have been authorized to offer huge cruise discounts (on safe ships, of course) to make up for a surge of Costa Concordia related cancellations.

In the meantime, beware, too, of the following three classic cruise rip offs, which typically multiply during the winter months.

1. The prize cruise. You are told you have won a free cruise or have qualified for a fabulous cut rate price, but you will need to provide a credit card number to pay a deposit or processing fee. You may even be asked for your passport or Social Security number to prove that you are the entitled winner.

If you give your credit card number, you may be charged port fees and other incidentals that exceed what you would pay for an entire booking through a legitimate cruise line or travel agent. Provide your Social Security or passport number and you risk future identity theft.

And your supposedly free vacation may require you to book a second guest at an inflated price.

2. The hidden sales pitch. Some offers are designed just to get you to attend a sales pitch for a timeshare or an expensive and potentially problem prone vacation club. You may in fact get a low cost cruise, but past passengers complain of below par accomodations – and high pressure presentations that take not the promised 90 minutes but four hours or more.

3. The long distance scam. Offers are sometimes nothing more than a ruse to run up your phone bill. To claim your prize cruise, you’re told to call a 900 phone number or one with an area code of 876, 868, 809, 758, 784, 664, 473, 441, 284 or 246. Those codes seem all American, but are actually for foreign countries, with the clock running at $5 a minute or more. In the end, there is no cruise, only a high phone bill.

Ensure bona fide bookings

Last year, the Better Business Bureau received more than 1,300 complaints about cruises. Here is how to protect yourself:

Beware of buzzwords. Gotcha cruise promises tend to use language like you are eligible to win or guaranteed. One word that should never trick you: Free. It means just that — so do not pay deposits or service fees on the promise you will get them back later.

Find out who really sent the offer. If an offer comes from an unrecognized source, assume the worst. But legitimate cruise lines may send past customers emails or mailings about real low cost offers. Before you respond, authenticate the address with an online search. Watch out for look-alike Internet addresses that are just a letter or two different from legitimate ones. Never click on attachments in unsolicited emails; they could unleash rogue programs known as malware on your computer.

Get proper confirmation of your booking. If you book through a travel agent or other third party, make sure that you get two sets of confirmation numbers — one directly from the cruise line and one from the other agency. That will help in any disputes.

Pay with a credit card. That is safer than a debit card or check and will allow for easier reimbursement or settlement of payment disputes if problems arise.

Hopefully these tips will help when you go to book your next cruise.

Have a great week!

Until we meet again; here's wishing you health, hope, happiness and just enough.

big bear hug,

Daddy Dab