Check online agencies before paying for trip

travel q&a avoiding fraud

November 09, 2008|By Los Angeles Times

I am trying to book a trip online for South America; a pretty good package was arranged for me by an online company. How can I check if it is reputable?

You can't know just by looking at a site whether it's OK, even if it has seals and endorsements from God himself.

That's not to say that all online agencies are bogus - far from it - but when consumers moved from bricks to clicks, they lost that human connection. You can look a travel agent in the eye, but a cursor is impenetrable.

If you're not going the travel agent route, put on your world's greatest skeptic suit and prepare to spend a lot of time pounding the keyboard.

Your first move, suggests Donna Hoffman, a professor at the Sloan Center for Internet Retailing at the University of California, Riverside, is to Google the name of the company and the word "fraud" and see if anything comes up.

Next, start looking around at travel communities - the TripAdvisors of the world - to see whether anything has been written about the agency you're dealing with.

You need to view the evaluations with a skeptical eye, throwing out the highest and the lowest ratings and considering the middle of what probably will be a U-shaped curve of opinion.

The best way to stop a loss is to make sure it doesn't happen, so here's a suggestion for one more step: finding out who's behind the Web site. Go to whois.net and type in the Web site's URL.

On the next page, the contact information should come up. Then Google the name behind the site and call and chat with the person. You'll get a better sense of how accessible he or she is.

And finally, be your own BFF and always pay with a credit card. People might gripe about credit-card companies and the way consumers get nailed with nasty unexpected fees (transactions in foreign currencies, for instance), but they do stand between us and the scum suckers of the world.

In the end, having Brute Financial Force is another great BFF to have on your side. In the fight against fraud, you need all the friends you can get.

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