BBB Advice

by Danielle Kane

Hang up the phone!

If you’re trying to call a travel company’s customer service number you found via search engine, read on before dialing. Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific has recently learned about a network of scammers using Expedia Group’s name to take consumers for thousands of dollars.

BBB has received several reports throughout the summer, so far, from consumers who’ve lost as much as $3,700. Victims in 17 different states and British Columbia, Canada, have lost more than $10,000 to this con. And that’s just the losses that are reported to our Scam Tracker tool.

But before you disavow Expedia forever, stick with us.

Expedia is a BBB Accredited Business with an A+ rating. In a statement, the Bellevue, Washington-based company said, “We are happy to team up with the BBB to educate people about this scam and share tips on how they can protect themselves.”

So, here’s how the scam begins:

A consumer searches online, then calls customer service numbers purporting to be Expedia. Customers ask the representative to confirm or change existing reservations they’ve made through the Expedia travel site. But instead of legitimate Expedia reps, they are calling phone numbers used by impostors. The impostors say their refund site isn’t working properly and the consumer needs to purchase gift cards in order to receive a refund or change bookings.

Big red flag — anytime someone tells you that a payment or refund via gift cards is the only option, you can be sure this is a con.

One scam victim told BBB that the scammer kept telling her to, “purchase (additional) gift cards saying that he had to merge the cards together,” but not to worry as she, “was going to be well reimbursed.” Several customers say the fake customer service rep stayed with them on their cell phones while they purchased the gift cards.

That’s what happened when BBBNW+P contacted one of the phony numbers and listened as the impostor tried to convince us we needed to buy gift cards, giving us a convoluted explanation of how we would get a refund.

Expedia Group’s statement continues, “Our goal is always to ensure travelers have a seamless and trouble-free booking experience with us, and it’s incredibly unfortunate that scammers have disrupted our customers’ well-deserved vacations and travel plans. Rest assured that we are also working hard to identify ways to prevent this from happening in the future.”

Expedia Group is taking steps to counteract these impostors, including working with popular search engines to reduce the occurrence of fake ads, making its customer service contact number more visible, and adding info about these scams to its customer service portal.

BBBNW+P offers the following tips for consumers to protect themselves:

• Most trustworthy companies will never demand a gift card as any form of payment and consumers should never have to pay to get money back.

• Using a search engine does not guarantee getting the correct number. Always go directly to a website to find contact information. Large companies often have a ‘Contact Us’ button or a help hotline number directly on their webpage. Just head directly to Expedia if you need to make a change to a booking.

• Protect personal information. Be cautious when connecting to public Wi-Fi and never use it for online banking or entering personal or financial information. Of course, always be careful of giving out this information via the phone.

— Danielle Kane is the Better Business Bureau marketplace manager for Portland. She can be reached at danielle.kane@thebbb.org .

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