The FBI Alerts All Americans to "Exercise Caution" in Urgent New Warning

You'll want to pay close attention to this during the height of the summer travel season.

Summer is in full swing, meaning you might be heading to a seaside destination or packing up for a trip somewhere scenic. Whether you're booking your flights or fueling up for a road trip, a lot of planning goes into a vacation, and you might be considering different options for where to eat, what to see, and where to stay. With that in mind, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has issued an urgent warning to all Americans at the height of the summer travel season. Read on to find out why the agency wants you to "exercise caution" over the next few months, and how you can best protect yourself.

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The travel industry is already strained.

passengers in airport
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When school's out and the warmer temperatures hit, many of us are eager to take a vacation. But this summer, travelers have been faced with different obstacles, including an onslaught of canceled flights and hotels at full capacity. Earlier this month, CNN advised Americans to rethink their travel plans in light of this, as even renting a car will cost you significantly more than it would have in previous years.

Many of us were forced to cancel vacations thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but with rolled-back restrictions, Americans are rebooking trips, and demand for travel resources has increased dramatically. Airlines are short-staffed following the pandemic and ticket prices are higher than ever.

With such large numbers of people traveling, there's also a limit to the number of hotel rooms available, also driving up prices. But if you're looking to book accommodations elsewhere, the FBI asks that you take a few precautions.

If you're booking at the last minute, don't fall victim to a scam.

for rent sign

On July 12, the FBI Boston Division issued a press release due to a recent spike in rental and real estate scams. According to the announcement, the public is at risk of falling prey to a rental scam, as home and rent prices soar and inflation rages on. If you're eager or scrambling to book a summer rental, you'll want to be mindful when posting and reaching out to rental and real estate properties online.

"We have seen a significant increase in the amount of money being lost by people who are desperate for a good deal," Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division, said in the press release. "Scammers are cashing in on renters who need to act quickly for fear of missing out, and it's costing consumers thousands of dollars, and in some cases, leaving them stranded."

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Scammers have concocted crafty cons.

scammer using a smartphone
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According to the FBI, there are different forms of these scams, whether you're looking for a rental property or renting out a property that you own.

Real estate advertised online is not always legitimate. In these instances, a scammer duplicates and alters a real ad from a real estate website, and then reposts it on a classified advertisement website. They often use the real broker's name to create a fake email address, and when victims reach out about the listing, the "owner" will tell them they cannot see the property before making payment, as they're out of town or out of the country. Much to the victims' chagrin, once payment for the rental is made, the listing is then no longer available.

Conversely, property owners can also fall victim to a con. An interested party responds to an advertisement and forwards a check to the owner. But the scammer either writes the "check" for too much money and asks for the remainder to be remitted, or they back out of the agreement and ask for a full refund. Banks don't often place holds on the funds, and the victim will believe the check has cleared. It's not until later that they realize it was a counterfeit check and they're now responsible for the loss.

Stay vigilant and keep an eye out for scam warning signs.

house key in rental
carballo / Shutterstock

In 2021, these scams resulted in reported total losses of $350,328,166, which was up 64 percent from 2020. In recent instances in New England, victims have shown up to rentals only to find out that the listings were fraudulent, being locked out and stranded with nowhere to stay.

If you find that you are a target or victim of these scams, the FBI instructs you to stop all contact and report any funds you may have transferred to your bank. You can also file a complaint with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.

And while sometimes people do get scammed, the FBI has a few recommendations to stay safe. Before spending any money, make sure you see the home or apartment and don't fill out applications online until you've met the property manager. In addition, don't wire funds to people you don't know, and try to validate the owner's identity via public records. You can also look for testimonials and reviews from previous tenants.

"We're asking everyone to exercise caution, especially over the next few months, as folks look to book last minute summer getaways," Bonavolonta said.

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