The Top 10 Riskiest Online Destinations Revealed


As Americans make their travel plans, scammers lie in wait. We’ve uncovered the top ten “riskiest” destinations for travel scams — places that turn up the most unsafe results when you look them up online.

That list features prominently in this year’s Safer Summer Holidays’ Travel Report, which also reveals some striking survey findings.

Before we get to our top ten list, a little context helps put it into perspective. Based on our survey, more than 25% of Americans have been affected by travel scams. These take several forms, and generally, they involve some mix of phony booking sites, bogus rental listings, and travel experiences that never materialize. Other tricks like phishing emails and messages round out the mix.

That stat stands as words to the wise as most people said they’re gearing up for travel. A good 85% of Americans said they’re hitting the road this year. Moreover, 45% of them said they plan on spending more on travel this year than last.

No doubt about it, vacationers and trip-takers should keep a sharp eye out for travel scams this year.

Here’s what travel scams look like today.

With those forms of travel scams in mind, this year’s survey of travelers revealed several striking stats.

Whether it happened this year or in years prior, these scams included:

  • Providing their credit or bank card details on a fake site, which a scammer then used to make fraudulent payments (15%).
  • Clicking on a link from an unknown source that was a scam or malicious (10%).
  • Encountering manipulated photos of their holiday destination (8%).

Another 28% said they got hit with a scam when they arrived at their destination. Here’s what these scams looked like for travelers:

  • 13% said they paid a deposit on accommodations that turned out not to exist or that had no record of their registration.
  • 10% said they paid for an event or excursion where the provider never showed up.
  • 9% said they put money down on an excursion which turned out completely unlike what was marketed.

The cost of travel scams.

How did all these scams add up? In all, we found that 32% of victims said they lost between $501-1000 in a single scam. Another 24% of victims said they lost $1,000 or more on a travel scam. Only a relatively small percentage of people said they lost nothing. Just 15%, a figure that shows just how successful travel scams can be.

This falls right in line with reports from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). As published in their 2023 Data Book, more than 55,000 Americans reported a travel scam. The median loss — nearly $1,200 per case.[i] As always with FTC statistics, they only documented reported cases of fraud. The number of actual scams more than likely climbs higher than that.

The top ten riskiest online destinations for Americans when searching for travel.

Like the many other scams people come across online, several travel scams rely on sketchy links and sites. With that, further research helped us uncover which travel destinations have the highest amounts of sketchy links that turn up in search.

Using travel-related keywords like “discount,” “Airbnb,” “local cuisine,” and “tours,” we then paired them with a list of destinations. From that pairing, the following destinations returned more sketchy links than all others:

  1. Berlin, Germany
  2. Cyprus
  3. London, England
  4. Paris, France
  5. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  6. Bali, Indonesia
  7. Azores, Portugal
  8. Amalfi Coast, Italy
  9. Bermuda
  10. Machu Picchu, Peru

Booking any online travel calls for scrutiny and care. However, apparently scammers favor these destinations over others when targeting American travelers.

How to avoid falling for travel scams.

Trust a trusted platform.

That’s your best place to start. Book your vacation rental through a reputable outlet. Vacation rental platforms like Airbnb and VRBO have policies and processes in place that protect renters from scammers. The same goes for booking other travel needs above and beyond renting. Travel platforms such as Expedia, Priceline, Orbitz, and others have their own protections in place.

From there, you have several other ways you can avoid booking scams …

Look for signs of rental scams.

Do a reverse image search on the photos used in the property’s listing and see what comes up. It might be a piece of stock photography designed to trick you into thinking it was taken at an actual property for rent. (Scammers sometimes highjack photos of actual properties not for rent too. Some now use AI-generated images as well.) Also, read the reviews for the property. Listings with no reviews are a red flag.

Only communicate and pay on the platform.

The moment a host asks to communicate outside of the platform is another red flag. Scammers will try to lure you off the platform where they can request payment in forms that are difficult to recover or trace after you realize you’ve been scammed.

Moreover, paying for your rental outside the platform might also go against the terms of service, as in the case of Airbnb. Or, as with VRBO, paying outside the platform voids their “Book with Confidence Guarantee,” which offers you certain protections. Use the platform to pay and use a credit card when you do. In the U.S., the Fair Credit Billing Act allows you to dispute charges. Additionally, some credit cards offer their own anti-fraud protections that can help you dispute a billing.

Never pay with cryptocurrency, wire transfers, or gift cards.

If someone asks you to pay for your trip one of these ways. It’s a scam. Travel scammers prefer these payment methods because they’re exceptionally tough to track. Once that money gets sent, it’s likely exceptionally tough to get back.

Keep an eye out for phishing attacks.

Scammers use phishing emails and messages to trick travelers into revealing sensitive info or downloading malware onto their devices. As you book, look for unsolicited messages claiming to be from airlines, hotels, or financial institutions. Particularly if they ask for personal info or prompt you to click on suspicious links. When in question, contact the sender directly using official contact info from their official website.

Also, look into McAfee Scam Protection, included with our McAfee+ plans. It blocks links to scam sites that crop up in emails, messages, and texts. AI technology automatically scans the links and alerts you if it might send you to a scam site.

Let your bank and credit card companies know you’re traveling.

Give your bank and credit card companies a call before you head out. They have anti-fraud measures in place that look for unusual activity, such as when your card is used in a location other than somewhere relatively near your home. This can trigger a freeze, which can put you in a lurch if you’re looking to withdraw cash or make a payment. Contacting your bank and credit card companies before you travel can help prevent this.

Have an easy way to keep tabs on your accounts and credit.

Fraud can happen at any time, even when you’re out of town. A couple of things can help you nip it quickly before it takes a big bite out of your credit card or bank accounts. Transaction monitoring notifies you of any questionable activity in your credit cards or bank accounts. It can further alert you to any other questionable activity in your 401(k) plans, investments, and loans.

So, say that your debit card info got skimmed in a sketchy ATM or point-of-sale machine — you’ll get an alert if thieves try to make a purchase with it. From there, you can contact your bank and take the extra step of putting a security freeze in place to prevent further fraud. You can security freeze and transaction monitoring features in our McAfee+ plans as well.

Protect your identity.

Before you hop on a plane, train, or automobile, consider investing in identity protection. This way, you can head off any issues that might crop up when you should be enjoying yourself. For example, imagine losing your wallet. Immediately, a dark cloud of “what ifs” rolls in. What if someone’s running up charges on your cards? What if someone used your ID or insurance cards to impersonate you online? Not a great feeling any time, especially on vacation.

With identity theft coverage and restoration in place, you can recoup your losses and restore your identity if a thief damaged it in any way. Ours provides up to $2 million in coverage, along with lost wallet protection that cancels and replaces lost cards with little effort from you.

Top 10 ‘Riskiest’ Online Destinations Overview and Methodology

The research was conducted by McAfee Labs researchers between March 11th – 29th 2024, utilizing McAfee WebAdvisor to find risky URLs related to a range of popular holiday destinations. This includes web pages delivering malware threats, phishing, or scam content. Researchers queried country-specific search engines from the matching locations with a variety of holiday destination terms and calculated the percentage of risky URLs returned within the search results. The final result of “riskiest” online destinations means the cities and countries that are popular search subjects and therefore key targets for cybercriminals when creating phishing and other online scams.

[i] https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/ftc_gov/pdf/CSN-Annual-Data-Book-2023.pdf

 

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