Kathleen G. Kane - Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General - Protecting Pennsylvanians

    _ Click for the Spanish Translation

September 3, 2010

Small businesses, churches and other organizations cautioned about Internet travel scams

HARRISBURG - Attorney General Tom Corbett today urged small businesses, churches and other organizations to be wary of Internet travel scams.

"Modern computer technology makes it quick and easy for thieves to generate Internet ads of email messages seeking assistance in purchasing airline tickets and making other travel arrangements," Corbett said.  "Individuals who respond to the bogus ads will typically be asked to wire-transfer money, or businesses may be sent counterfeit checks or fraudulent credit card information to complete the transactions."

Corbett noted that in one recent example, scam artists copied the website address and contact information for a church in Central Pennsylvania - posing as a minister who was attempting to purchase airline tickets to several different international destinations, including Toronto, Canada; London; Lagos, Nigeria; and Qatar.  In another example, the bogus church official claimed to be making travel arrangements for a group of missionaries who were visiting the United States.

Church officials reported the possible scam to their local police department after being contacted by travel agencies in Virginia and Pennsylvania that were attempting to respond to the phony email.

Corbett explained that con artists frequently claim to be church officials or missionaries as a way of establishing trust and prompting more potential victims to respond.  Scam emails also often include tales of travel problems, other unexpected difficulties and urgent deadlines, in the effort to get victims to respond quickly without taking the time to verify that a message is legitimate.

"Counterfeit checks and fake money orders are popular currency for scam artists looking for victims who respond to email pleas or online ads," Corbett said. "Often, the crooks will 'accidentally' send a check for an amount that is larger than necessary, requesting that the victim use a wire-transfer to return the excess money or forward payment to someone else."

Corbett said thieves know that it can take a week or more for banks to identify counterfeit checks or money orders.  Unsuspecting individuals who fall for these schemes eventually learn that the checks they received are worthless, but not before they have transferred hundreds or thousands of dollars to scam artists.

Corbett offered the following tips for everyone to keep in mind concerning Internet ads or email offers:

  • Bad spelling, grammar and implausible stories are all tell-tale signs of Internet scams.  Someone who claims to be a high ranking official, traveling "businessperson" or missionary should have their facts straight and be able to communicate clearly.
  • Question messages that give more information than a typical traveler would reveal, such as drawn out stories about medical problems, family issues, etc.
  • Be suspicious of people who want to use an unsecure form of payment, such as a money transfer, certified check or cashier's check.
  • Avoid offers to send you a larger payment than necessary, along with a request that you wire transfer or return a portion of the money.  These schemes typically involve counterfeit checks that bounce after you've delivered your own money back to the con artist.
  • Proceed extremely cautiously if asked to make an international payment or use a money order or wire transfer.
  • Get a verifiable address, phone number, and email account.  If someone is taking part in a legitimate transaction, they should be willing to disclose contact information beyond a generic or anonymous free email address.  Be especially cautious of free online e-mail services (Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail, etc).
  • Don't respond to messages that you believe are fraudulent.  This will just lead to more bogus messages and spam being delivered to your account. 

Corbett noted that extensive information about avoiding common scams is available in the "Your Money - Protecting Against Scams" section of the Attorney General's website.

Consumers with questions or concerns about scams can call the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-441-2555 or file an online consumer complaint.