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Cruise Scams

The siren song of a vacation chockablock with seagoing luxury and exotic ports of call can draw you into scam-infested waters. The classic cruise con starts with an email or call (often automated) with news that you’ve won a free cruise — as a sweepstakes prize, a special offer from a travel company or a “reward” for taking a brief survey. You might be asked to provide a Social Security number to reserve your spot, or credit card details to cover nominal booking or processing fees.

What you’re actually signing up for is a barrage of sales pitches and additional charges, such as taxes, port fees and onboard gratuities. By departure time, your “free” trip might cost more than if you’d simply booked directly with the cruise line or a travel agent. That’s if there’s a trip at all: Some cruise offers are just ploys to get the requisite data to steal your money or identity, or to harvest contact information that is shared with spam-spewing marketers. (The latter is particularly prevalent on social media.)

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Another common trick is offering an all-expenses-paid cruise in exchange for a little of your time — which turns out to be a time-share presentation or resort tour lasting several hours. If you survive that with the cruise offer intact, you’ll likely face more high-pressure pitches for costly trip upgrades. Turn them down and you're apt to end up with “dismal cruise conditions and ships that lack common amenities like air-conditioning,” the National Consumers League warns.

The coronavirus pandemic provided another pretext for scammers to target cruisers. Cruise Critic, a TripAdvisor-affiliated site that covers the industry, reports that fraudsters posing as cruise-line reps are calling or emailing travelers with bogus offers of refunds or credits for canceled trips. If your plans have been disrupted by the pandemic, communicate with the cruise company only through its official customer-service channels or via the travel adviser who booked the trip for you.

Warning Signs

  • An email or call says you’ve won a free cruise in a lottery, sweepstakes or contest you do not recall entering.
  • You receive an offer of a free cruise in exchange for attending a meeting or presentation.
  • You’re asked, in a robocall or social media post, to answer a few questions to qualify for a free cruise.
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Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.

    How to protect yourself from this scam

    • Do check out the source of any free or low-cost cruise offer. Search online to authenticate the company’s address and phone number. Look up its online reviews and Better Business Bureau rating.
    • Do check online offers for signs of spoofing. Scam emails, social media posts and websites mimic the names and branding of well-known cruise lines.
    • Do confirm any booking you make through a travel agent or third-party travel seller with the cruise line itself.
    • Do pay with a credit card, which offers the greatest protection if a payment dispute arises.
    • Do ask detailed questions and study the fine print. Get a clear explanation of all fees and your accommodation class, and make sure you understand the cancellation and refund policies.
    • Don’t give personal or financial information to a travel company that contacts you out the blue with the promise of a free or discount cruise offer or a refund for a canceled trip.
    • Don’t pay to claim a contest prize. If you truly won a free cruise, it should include all taxes and fees, according to the National Consumers League.
    • Don’t succumb to pressure to move quickly on a “time restricted” cruise deal.
    • Don’t share or follow links from social media posts that promise cruise tickets for taking a survey.
    • Don’t click on attachments in unsolicited cruise or travel emails. They could unleash malware that scours your computer for personal and financial data.
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    spinner image cartoon of a woman holding a megaphone

    Have you seen this scam?

    • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
    • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.