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Travel Scams to Watch Out For

Cybercrooks set their sights on your frequent-flier miles and even more

Just in time for summer vacation, cybercrooks have a new destination: your frequent-flier miles. Stealing travelers' airline rewards seems to be the latest form of identity theft, according to Internet security watchdog Kaspersky Lab.

It's done by sending out millions of spam emails that purport to be flight confirmations, special offers or travel alerts. Each one requests reward program membership numbers and passwords.

"A sense of urgency is important, and that'll make people give up their details," says Kaspersky's Tim Armstrong.

If there are are enough miles to redeem a flight, scammers cash in — often selling tickets to third parties.

Plus, when links provided in these bogus emails are clicked, "they will infect the computer with malware and just steal money out of people's accounts directly."

Protect yourself: When in doubt, directly contact your airline to vet the authenticity of any travel-related email you may get.

If you think that's sneaky, watch out for these other tricky travel scams:

The Pizza Pilfer

When you're staying at a hotel, pizza delivery flyers may be slipped under your room's door. After a tiring day of sightseeing, a cheaper alternative to room service, you say?

Some food for thought: Order from these photocopied flyers, which may only provide a telephone but no address of the restaurant, and you may be asked to give a credit card number.

Do that, say Orlando police, where this scam proliferated at hotels last summer, and scammers may either use your account number and confirmation code to make fraudulent big-money charges, charge you for the pizza that's never delivered or, at best, give you "a very inferior pizza that, in some cases, is made in unsanitary conditions."

Protect yourself: If you're hungry for room delivery, ask the front desk for reputable area vendors. Pay only cash after food is delivered.

The Klutz Con

You're walking through an airport terminal when someone "accidentally" spills food or drink on you. As he helps you clean up the mess, a nearby accomplice scurries off with your carry-on luggage. Outside of hotels, beware of clumsy passersby who bump into you or knock you down or even collapse themselves. They could be diversion dupers whose accomplices are waiting nearby to lift your luggage or wallet.

Protect yourself: No matter the mishap, always keep your eyes on their prize: your personal belongings.

The Hollow Heist

A favorite in train stations (but it can also occur in airports), this scheme involves one scammer who diverts you in conversation while another places a large, open-bottom suitcase over yours — and wheels off with your luggage inside his Trojan horse.

Protect yourself: If you feel the need to converse, continue to hold your luggage or place it between your legs.

Cabbie Cons

Most taxi drivers are interested in your fare, not fraud. But there are those who try to inflate the former with the latter, driving unfamiliar tourists on a purposely long route to maximize the meter.

Others try to steal your luggage. In one scam, a cabbie takes you to an airport or hotel and then hands you your change as he begins to unload your luggage. While you're counting it, he slams the trunk and quickly drives off, with at least one suitcase still inside.

Protect yourself: At airports, look for signs or ask information desk personnel about how much the fare should be to your destination and where you can get a legitimate cab. Ignore anyone who approaches you offering a ride. Once you're in the vehicle, write down the driver's name, cab number and company to help in your recourse should you encounter a rip-off.

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.

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