They are websites designed to trick you, and more travelers are being deceived every year when they go to book a hotel room. That can lead to a horrible vacation. Hotel booking fraud is a growing problem with 1-4 American travelers saying they've been duped.
Molly Fay told us she feels taken advantage of. She booked a dream vacation last year to wine country. Molly is a coworker which is how we found this story.
"I thought I was booking directly with the resort," she said.
Molly Googled the name of the California Inn and clicked on the website to reserve a room, "absolutely looked like the property's website with the picture, their name top line and didn't have mention at that time of the booking service."
She actually booked through a third-party website, something Molly realized when the confirmation email came through. A few months before the trip, Molly had to cancel. She was hoping to get some money back.
"I thought maybe the resort will make an exception or work with me. Maybe give me half of my money back," she said.
The third-party website told Molly it was checking with the owner about her request.
"They got back to me immediately and said 'the owners of this property said they will make no exception for you," she said.
Molly said she later discovered the site never actually made contact with the inn.
The number of travelers duped by third-party websites is growing, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association. In 2015 only 6 percent of vacationers reported being a victim. In 2017 it was 22 percent.
Many result in bad bookings. People are charged hidden fees, they don't get the accommodations promised, or reservations are lost.
It's one of the reasons some people are trending back to travel agents.
"They do like to know they have that security," Holly Faith, with Fox World Travel Brookfield, told us.
With so many choices, and the pitfalls of online booking, they're seeing more travelers book through the agency.
"They get very overwhelmed. So they do come back kind of full circle now, to our advice," Faith said.
There has been some oversight by the federal government. The FTC recently filed a complaint against a company that sells hotel reservations through third-party websites. It found the defendants engaged in "deceptive acts and practices" creating the impression consumers are booking rooms directly through the advertised hotel.
Molly commented, "I can easily see how people are fooled."
She asked our Call 4 Action volunteers for help on getting a refund.
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They bypassed the booking site and reached out to the general manager at the California inn who refunded most of the money. Now Molly says she's more careful when making a reservation.
There is federal legislation in the works called the Stop Online Booking Scams Act. It would require all third-party websites disclose they are not affiliated with hotels. The bill would also give state Attorneys General the ability to go after violators in federal court. right now only federal authorities can pursue charges.
Some key things to look for so you don't fall into a scheme: Many of these third-party sites use the hotel name in the link. If the website doesn't have a locked symbol or an "https" in the web address don't do business there.