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Avoid travel scams this holiday season

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Many people take vacations or visit family at this time of year.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that there are a number of scams that unsuspecting travelers can fall victim to if they are not careful.

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The Minnesota Society of CPAs offers these tips on how to avoid them.

Be cautious

When making any purchase, it's always best to be suspicious of offers that sound too good to be true, and that's certainly the case when making travel plans.

Many con artists promise great vacations or airline deals for very low prices, and be especially wary of great deals advertised in unsolicited emails or faxes.

Before you sign up, contact the sender and ask some tough questions.

Find out what exactly is included in the bargain price, the names of the airlines or resorts involved and the full name and address of the company offering the deal

If the company is unwilling to answer these questions or gives vague or incomplete responses, then the offer is probably a scam.

Scrutinize "free" offers

Be particularly suspicious of promises of "free" travel, because it's rare that a legitimate business will give away anything for nothing.

A vacation is "free" only if you commit to making a costly additional purchase.

Or you may be told that you must reveal your credit card number or other personal information in order to qualify for the deal.

Don't do it, because the person asking for this information is probably an identity thief who will use the information to make unauthorized charges to your credit card or bank accounts.

Confirm the details

Even when working with a reputable travel agent or resort, you may find that your dream vacation doesn't quite meet expectations.

It's important to confirm not only your reservation in advance but also the details of the deal.

You want to be sure not only that dates and locations are correct, but also that you agree on the terms and quality of your vacation.

If the advertisement promises "first-class accommodations," for example, find out exactly what that means so that you are not disappointed with your room or any other aspect of your stay.

You may be expecting a fancy suite with a view of the ocean, while the travel company is actually offering a relatively clean room overlooking a parking lot.

Get it in writing

Ask the travel agent or tour or resort operator for a document that describes every detail of your vacation that they have arranged, then review the paperwork to ensure it includes all that you're expecting.

Also check to see that it covers the company's policies on cancellation and refunds, so you understand what your options are if your travel plans must be changed.

Pay with a credit card

If you are confident that you are dealing with a legitimate business, it is usually smart to pay with a credit card.

You may be able to challenge the charge with the credit card company if you feel you did not get what you paid for.

The MNCPA provides free tax and financial planning information for individuals and small businesses. More info is at www.mncpa.org.

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