If you’re planning to book your next vacation online, take heed: A new study suggests that cybercriminals are setting their sights on aspiring travelers who unwittingly leave themselves open to online fraud.
Eighteen percent — almost 1 in 5 consumers — have either been scammed or were nearly victims of a scam while booking travel online, according to the study from cybersecurity company McAfee. Those searching for trips to destinations in Mexico, Europe and Canada were the most at risk of coming across a fraudulent website, it said.
In addition to surveying 1,000 adults, McAfee also looked at how many risky websites were generated by internet searches into travel destinations. Scammers often prey on consumers searching online for travel deals by steering them to websites that can be used to steal personal information or install malware on victims’ computers.
The study found that 31% of consumers don’t check a web site’s authenticity before they book a trip online, leaving them vulnerable to such scams. Bargain shoppers appeared to be particularly at risk, with a similar 31% of vacation-scam victims saying they were conned after they responded to a deal that was "too good to be true."
And these scams can be very costly: 30% of victims surveyed said they lost between $1,000 and $3,000 due to fraud that took place while they were planning a vacation. The consequences were potentially even higher for 13% of scam victims, who reported that their identities had been stolen when they shared passport details with fraudsters during what they believed to be the booking process.
The study also looked at fraud dangers during the vacation itself, specifically in terms of going online while far from home. Most consumers (95%) said they use their personal devices when on vacation, and 36% said they worried about having personal data stolen when doing so. Yet 42% of those concerned respondents admitted they had connected to an unsecured network or didn’t check the security of their internet connection when they were traveling.
And it’s not just personal information that’s at risk — 40% of those surveyed said they used their work devices while on vacation, with large numbers reporting they connected to public Wi-Fi at their hotel (69%) and the airport (46%). Using those open networks to access work-related systems "potentially put[s] sensitive business information at risk" from hackers, McAfee said.
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of planning a trip, but you shouldn’t forget precautions to stay financially safe while traveling . There are also steps you can take to prevent being defrauded by scammers or becoming the victim of identity theft online — these include avoiding suspicious internet links, keeping your web browser up to date and using a secure wi-fi network.