Imagine you’re a food enthusiast who believes that “You have to taste a culture to
understand it.” You want your vacation to focus on local street food, cooking classes,
and dining at authentic restaurants. While you could find flights, accommodations, and
basic itineraries online, a key ingredient – local connections – will be missing and you
could end up missing the best parts because of that.
A travel agent can take your trip to the next level by offering personalized touches. You
get not just the local knowledge but also the connections to the right people in your
destinations that help you achieve your goals. So, a travel agent can still offer valuable
benefits in today’s digital age.
Value of Travel Agent Market in India – Statista 2023
However, there are many fake travel agents in the market today. Dealing with a fake
travel agent can expose you to various risks and potential scams. To protect yourself
from these risks, it’s important to thoroughly research and verify the legitimacy of any
travel agency before making any payments or sharing personal information.
Some ways in which you can spot a fake travel agency:
No Membership to Global or National Associations
You can start with verifying the travel agent’s credentials and certifications. Do
they have a membership with reputable travel associations like IATA
(International Air Transport Association). IATA-accredited agencies have a
unique code, which is the best way to verify their legitimacy. You can ask for the
agency’s IATA code and verify whether they are valid through a code checking
Weird Websites & Generic Email ids
Look at the website’s URL (web address) for any anomalies. Phishing sites may
use misspelled or slightly altered domain names to mimic legitimate websites.
For example, “paypal-security.com” instead of “paypal.com.” Make sure that the
website uses “https://” at the beginning of its URL. Phishing websites are often
hastily put together and may have poor design, spelling errors, or grammar
Lack of physical presence or office
If your travel agent doesn’t have a physical office, it is a red flag indicating a
potential fake travel agent or travel scam. Travel agencies typically have physical
offices and if it is possible you should visit their office to verify the address. This
will ensure that you can trace and reach your travel agent later in case of any
Fake Online reviews & Feedback
While this sounds counterintuitive, you should look for a travel agent with some
negative reviews and avoid those who only have 5 star ratings in their reviews.
Even a well-established and reputed travel agency will have a few negative
reviews from the customers. Genuine travel agencies work on the negative
feedback to provide better services, while fake ones delete the negative reviews
from the website. Fake travel agencies even pay people to leave positive reviews
on the site. Do a little digging from your end to determine whether or not the
testimonies and reviews are made from genuine accounts.
High-Pressure Sales Tactics & Immediate Payment Deals
The biggest red flag of a fake travel agency is that they present mouth-watering
deals which they keep relentlessly pushing and which need to be paid for
immediately. You need to watch out for incredibly low prices, hidden fees,
misleading promotions & false claims. Almost all fake Deals and Promotions
sound too good to be true so make sure you don’t fall for something that no one
else is offering.
If your travel agency is giving you information to deceive immigration officials, or
asking you to take a different route while traveling instead of the normal one,
then it is a big reason for concern. Any agency that asks you to do anything
illegal is most likely a scam.
Poor Communication & Customer Service
If the travel agent is frequently unavailable, gives delayed or inconsistent
responses and evades giving clear answers then you need to watch out that they
are not unethical individuals posing as travel agents.
Refusal to Share References or Client Information
Legitimate agents will be more than happy to provide references taking into
account privacy concerns and data protection. Fake travel agencies cannot
produce client information as they have no satisfied customers to vouch for their
Absence of Legal Documentation
Fake travel agencies will have missing contracts or agreements & will not provide
most of their terms and conditions in writing. This helps them to evade any legal
obligations or liabilities that would arise in case of disputes or complaints from
Requests for Unusual Payment Methods
If a travel agent insists on payment methods that seem unusual or less secure,
such as cash, wire transfers or gift cards, it is a warning sign. Legitimate
agencies usually offer standard payment options like credit cards or secure
online payment gateways.
Like Chetan Bhagat says – “Fake people are like soap bubbles, they pop out when the sun
shines brightly”. So use these tips to shine a bright light on fake travel agents and you will
remain protected from their scams. And finally, don’t let a few bad apples shake your trust in the
vast majority of great travel agents who continuously strive to make your travel experience the
best it can be.