How to Avoid 3 Common Hotel Scams

CREF’s primary purpose is to provide quality education, and recently we’ve learned that sometimes that means offering practical tips on how to keep our attendees, speakers, and exhibitors safe from hotel scams and credit-card fraud involving increasingly savvy hotel pirates, poachers, and front-desk impersonators.

1. Hotel Pirates

CREF hotel scam pirate poacher fraud how to avoidHere’s how this scam works: A fictitious business recruits aggressive salespeople via social media, creates a professional-looking website, names the business something like “Exhibitors Housing Services” or “Convention Hotel Services,” and then actively reaches out to faculty, exhibiting companies, or even attendees listed on a conference website. They then contact those individuals and explain that they are working with the conference organizer to secure hotel rooms and that rooms must be booked immediately due to low inventory. They charge the attendees’ credit cards but do not reserve rooms. 

To avoid falling victim to hotel pirates, follow these simple tips:

  • Remember that conference organizers secure a block of rooms based on the size of their group, and they negotiate a reduced rate for all attendees, exhibitors, and speakers.
  • No one should ever phone, email, or contact you in any way requesting your credit card to make a hotel reservation for a conference.
  • Beware of using Google to search for a conference hotel link. Wily pirates create AdWord campaigns that are prominently displayed on the results page, trying to lure you in. Instead, use the hotel reservation link that’s listed on the official conference website or in official meeting correspondence. You can also phone the hotel to make your reservation.
  • If you’re ever in doubt, CREF welcomes your calls or emails to report suspicious activity or simply to verify a website or email you have received.
  • CREF respects your privacy and will never post conference attendee lists online. Never! If you attend other conferences that broadcast your attendance to the general public, ask them to refrain–or at least to remove your name.

2. Hotel Poachers

This hotel scam is quickly emerging as an insidious problem for conference planners, who rely on attendees and exhibitors to book rooms within the group block. Doing so helps ensure that the organization will receive no- or low-cost meeting space and avoid costly attrition penalties. (In their hotel contract, they must predict how many room nights their group will occupy, and if they fall short of that prediction, they must pay the hotel for those rooms.) Hotel poachers, also known as third-party room-block marketing firms, present themselves as either the official housing agency for a conference or authorized by it to book hotel reservations.

On the contrary, room poachers have no connection to the organization; instead, they earn commission for selling hotel rooms outside the block. Although the room reservations may be legitimate, the conference does not receive credit for those reservations, putting it in danger of the costly penalties mentioned above.

The hotel industry is trying to pass legislation to prevent online booking scams and protect consumers, but in the meantime, these tips can help you avoid hotel-room poachers:

  1. Remember that CREF has negotiated a block of rooms for our attendees, so when you reserve a room, make sure you identify yourself as a CREF attendee.
  2. Remember what your parents told you: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Many of these poachers promise a drastically discounted room rate, but the transaction involves hidden fees or severe cancellation policies. Or you may end up with no reservation at all. (See Hotel Pirates above.)

3. Front-Desk Impersonators

Here’s how this front-desk credit-card scam works: A hotel guest receives a call in his or her room, purportedly from the hotel’s own front desk manager, who claims to have experienced a problem with the guest’s credit card number and, therefore, needs a confirmation of that number over the phone. The guest provides the number, complete with expiration date and security code, and now the scammer has full access to that guest’s credit card.

To avoid falling prey to front-desk hotel scams, never give your credit card information to someone who calls you asking for it. If there is indeed some problem with your credit card, explain that you will return to the front desk in person to resolve the issue.

The Key Takeaway

Remember that this is sophisticated credit-card fraud; these individuals are savvy scammers, so they can sound quite convincing. However, one piece of advice will serve you well in all situations concerning credit-card fraud: never give your credit card information to a person who contacts you requesting it.