BBB celebrates 'Consumer Protection Week' with tools for avoiding top consumer scams

ByABC7 Chicago Digital Team WLS logo
Sunday, March 5, 2023
BBB's tools for avoiding top consumer scams
The Better Business Bureau is celebrating "Consumer Protection Week" by sharing tools to avoid top travel scams.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Consumer Protection Week begins Sunday, March 5, and the Better Business Bureau has some important information to help you avoid falling victim to scammers.

The BBB and FTC will provide a free live webinar Wednesday, March 8 at 3 p.m., to inform consumers of their rights and educate the public about scams and ID theft prevention. The webinar, titled "Avoid the Top Business and Consumer Scams Occurring in Northern Illinois," is in partnership with the City of Chicago's Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. You can register here.

While scammers work year round, there are some key things to watch for during the spring and summer months. With spring break approaching, scammers are poised to offer fraudulent vacation rentals, third-party fake bookings, and travel sites designed to appeal to consumers looking for great getaway discounts.

"Many consumers now are making their spring break travel plans and finalizing payments, some of which will fall directly into the hands of con artists," said Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau."Scammers often take advantage of consumer habits and capitalize on trending internet searches, enticing consumers with great deals to popular destinations or all-inclusive packages. While these scams happen year-round, now is peak time."

According to the Federal Trade Commission, there were more than 53,800 reports of travel scams in 2021. Travelers lost more than $95 million.

Additionally, Bernas said, "The best way to protect yourself is to begin planning early, so you are not rushing to make last-minute arrangements. Scammers capitalize on consumers in a hurry and may not have the time to verify that they are booking with a legitimate location or business. Always verify and be sure to check for customer complaints or reviews on"

The most reported travel scams are:

Vacation rental cons - Fraudsters lure in vacationers with the promise of low fees and great amenities. The "owner" creates a false sense of urgency - such as telling potential clients that another vacationer is interested in the rental - to get payment upfront before doing sufficient research or questioning the legitimacy of the ad.

"Free" vacation scams - Often offered as an enticing prize, these get victims to pay taxes, fees and other charges before they learn the offer is fake. Even when booking with a legitimate company, beware a low price may mean travel restrictions, add-on fees for air transportation, port charges, taxes, tips, and other fees.

Hotel scams - When staying in a hotel, beware of scammers who use various techniques to obtain credit card information, including fake front desk calls, "free" WiFi connections and fake food delivery.

Third-party booking site scams - If you book your airfare, hotel, or other travel through a third-party website, be sure to use caution. BBB Scam Tracker continues to receive reports of scammers pretending to be online airline ticket brokers. In a common version of the scam, travelers pay with a credit card and receive a call from the company asking to verify personal and banking information after making the payment.

To avoid falling victim to travel scams, BBB recommends:

Get trip details in writing - Before making a final payment, get all the trip details in writing. Details should include the total cost, restrictions, cancellation penalties, and names of the airlines and hotels. Also, review and keep a copy of the airline and hotel cancellation and refund policies and the travel agency/booking site cancellation policies.

"Too good to be true" deals - If the deal or discount seems too good to be true, it probably is. Scammers often use this tactic to lure in potential victims and use aggressive "limited time" language to entice travelers to pay before researching.

Avoid wiring money or using a prepaid debit card - These payments are the same as sending cash. Paying with a credit card offers some protection and dramatically limits liability from a fraudulent purchase.

Call the rental owner - If you are not using a service that verifies properties and owners, do not negotiate a rental solely by email. Many scammers don't live locally. Speaking with the owner on the phone or via video call and asking detailed questions about the property and local attractions will help clarify whether the listing is genuine.

Unsolicited offers - Be particularly cautious if you "win" a free trip without entering a contest or sweepstakes. This is especially true if the offer is time-sensitive and requires the consumer to accept and pay for the offer immediately or risk it going to another "winner." Check the official website of the company the offer is originating from to verify that it is legitimate.

The BBB is also alerting consumers shopping for used cars that unscrupulous sellers are expected to attempt to pawn off flood-damaged vehicles from California as standard secondhand cars here.

If you are in the market to purchase a used car, BBB advises there are many great automobile businesses in the area. Customers should do due diligence before making purchases. The best place to start is by checking for company ratings and reviews. BBB is a free referral source to find businesses you can trust.

Once the owners of damaged cars settle with the insurance companies, the vehicles are easily refurbished and resold. These vehicles typically appear at auto auctions, streetside sales, and in classified and social media ads.

"Thousands of cars damaged in the California storms in January will be dried out by now and shipped to other states," Bernas said. "Scammers will try to trick people with fresh upholstery, new carpeting and bargain prices. Often, middleman buyers intentionally hide a car's history as a flood-damaged vehicle through what's known as 'title washing' and sells it to an unsuspecting buyer in a state unaffected by the disaster."

Bernas noted that "the current lack of available used cars provides an even greater risk for consumers and a lucrative opportunity for scammers."

Corrosion can take years to surface among many possible mechanical problems faced by flooded cars, eventually, when it can cause electrical and mechanical problems.

"By the time the issues become apparent, the seller is gone, and the new owner is left with an unreliable vehicle, along with no recourse against the seller," Bernas said.

BBB tips to determine if a used car is flood-damaged:

Ask to see the title. Check the date and place of transfer, verifying where the vehicle came from. Ask questions if the title is stamped "salvage" or arrived from a recently flood-damaged state. Consider purchasing a vehicle history report of the vehicle, which includes information if the car has ever been tagged as "salvage" or "flood-damaged" in any state.

Carefully check the dashboard. Examine all gauges to make sure they are accurate and there are no signs of water. Look for indications that the dashboard may have been removed.

Check the electronic components. Test the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, radio, heater, and air conditioner several times to make sure they work. Also, flex some wires under the dash to see if they bend or crack, since wet wires become brittle upon drying.

Check the interior spaces. Look in the trunk, glove compartment, and beneath the seats and dashboard for signs of mud, rust, or water damage. Check for open drainage holes in the bottom of the vehicle.

Check the condition of the fabrics. Look for discolored, faded or mildewed upholstery, and carpeting. Recently shampooed carpets may be cause for concern. Carpeting that has been replaced may fit too loosely or may not match the interior color.

Get a vehicle history report from a database service. The National Insurance Crime Bureau's free database lists flood damage and other information. But take note: NICB reports are only helpful if the car was insured.

Remember to check under the hood. Look for standing water, mud or grit in the spare tire wheel well or around the engine compartment under the hood.

Do a smell test. A heavy aroma of cleaners and disinfectants is a sign there may be a mold or odor problem.

Research the dealer. Always check out the BBB Business Profile of the dealer at Look for the BBB Seal, the "Sign of a Better Business."

Get an inspection. Before buying any used car, consider having a pre-purchase inspection done by a trusted mechanic.

If you've been the victim of a scam, report it at Sign up for BBB's free consumer newsletter, BBB Edge, at Visit or follow @ChicagoBBB on social media.