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Avoid the Fake Plane Ticket Deal

Scammers lure victims with the promise of a free airline ticket

En español  |  In a letter that arrives in the U.S. mail, you're told you've qualified for two free airline tickets. In an email, the message is that a flight or hotel reservation is being confirmed.

Sorry, would-be travelers, but such correspondence is often about a different kind of R&R — ruse and rip-off. With some careful reading, you'll be able to see that plain and clear.

For several months now, letters have been arriving at homes across the country urging recipients to call a toll-free phone number to claim a prize — two airline tickets worth more than $1,000.

If you get one of these letters, notice the top. Recent versions claim to be from "US Airlines" or "American Airways," nonexistent carriers that mimic the names of legitimate US Airways and American Airlines.

Call the provided phone number and you'll be told that to get vouchers for your future flight, you'll first need to attend a 90-minute presentation for a travel club.

If tradition holds true, there you'll endure high-pressure pitches to spend thousands upfront for supposed great deals on future vacations and commit to hard-to-cancel annual fees. And even if you do all that, the promised "free" tickets may never materialize.

What's more, you'll have to pay your own way to the place where the presentation takes place. When I called the number listed on a recent letter to check out the scam, I was told to come to Chicago, a 760-mile flight.

Email flight and hotel "confirmations" typically have no travel club come-on. They just try to get you to click on a link that promises details of your journey or a printout of your room booking. Do that and you unleash "malware" into your computer. This rogue software could provide scammers with remote access to your computer files, passwords and online financial accounts.

In addition to American and US Airways, Delta has been falsely named in these confirmation cons. You can expect other airlines to be targeted as well.

How to read between these lies? Bogus flight emails usually begin with "Dear Customer" rather than your name, flyer rewards number or other personal identifier. In addition to typos and misspellings, it may have a confirmation code that doesn't jibe with the airline's system. US Airways, for instance, uses all letters or a combination of numbers and letters for its codes, but bogus emails supposedly from that carrier contain only numbers.

In some cases, the phony notices don't list a departing city, only a destination, and assign you a seat that doesn't exist, such as in row 65.

Who needs more proof? Hit the delete key right away.

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