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Were You 1 of 15 Million Victims of Online Hotel Scams?

To hear the American Hotel & Lodging Association tell it, booking a hotel room online is perilous indeed.

With online travel bookings surging over the past several years, averaging 480 hotel bookings per minute, so has the rate of scams. Research shows that an increasing number of consumers are misled into making hotel reservations through fraudulent websites and call centers that give the appearance of being a hotel’s website, but actually have no relation to the hotel.

The AMHLA, self-described “national association representing all segments of the 2 million-employee U.S. lodging industry,” estimates the number of such scams at an eye-popping 15 million per year, worth around $1.3 billion.

To address the problem, this week, the Senate began consideration of the Stop Online Booking Scams Act, the companion legislation to House bill 4526, introduced earlier in the year.

According to Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), one of the act’s co-sponsors, “This bill intends to crackdown on crooks and fraudsters who trick consumers into booking hotel rooms that don’t exist. Millions of consumers use the Internet to easily compare prices and find great deals on hotel rooms. We can’t have a few bad actors ruin this for everyone else.”

Accordingly, the bill makes it unlawful for a third-party online booking site not affiliated with the hotel to accept payment for a reservation without disclosing that it’s not affiliated with the hotel, and gives state attorneys general the authority to bring civil action against violators.

Reader Reality Check

This all seems reasonable, given the alleged scope of the fraudulent activity. But I did find myself scratching my head about just that: 15 million rip-offs a year? Really?

I make my share of online hotel bookings, and I hear regularly from an extensive network of friends and readers who do as well. And I don’t recall the problem of scam booking sites ever arising, either in my own experience or others’.

Of course, it’s possible that I’m getting my information from a particularly savvy subset of the travel-consumer universe, a group that’s less prone to be duped by illegitimate booking sites. But still…

And so my question, to yet more of my readers: Have you been the victim of an online hotel booking scam? Have you even come close?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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