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Thanks to my friends at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), scammers can take their own vacation if we summer travelers heed this important government agency's sage advice. Piggybacking on earlier vacationing suggestions, remember before heading out to the white sands of the Florida Panhandle or the azure waters of the Caribbean, be careful to take the steps necessary to enjoy heaving water onto the sand for fantastical sandcastles instead of heaving your innards out when realizing you've been scammed!

Research and then carefully read the details on travel offers. As I've always advised (and backed up by the FTC), it's a must to get recommendations from family and friends on reputable travel agencies, vacation rentals, hotels and travel packages before responding to offers. Run, not walk, to the nearest computer and look up travel companies, hotels, rentals and agents with the words "scam," "review," or "complaint."

Additionally, check the potential extra costs. For example, resort fees (also known as destination, facility and amenity fees) can add $50 or more to your nightly cost. I've mentioned our love for St. Maarten; however, every time we checked into the resort where our timeshare was located, we plunked down $50 per week. Not that we ever stayed more than a couple of weeks, but many "owners" and other guests often stay several months; at $50 a pop, that particular expense adds up.

Also, ask about taxes, which may be substantial in many locations. Be certain before you pay to definitely obtain a copy of the cancellation and refund policies. As far as travel insurance is concerned, I've covered that extensively recently; just remember that purchasing it is required and, also, be sure the agency is licensed. Bring copies of any confirmation details that show the rate and features you were promised. Obviously, this is your proof that you made the reservation and it was confirmed.

Don't pay for "prize" vacations. No legitimate company will ask you to pay for a prize. Also, look for catches to resort or timeshare offers, which may come with taxes and fees to pay, timeshare presentations to attend, and high-pressure sales pitches to stomach. I feel sure a number of readers have fallen for this scheme in the past, as have I (said with embarrassment through long before my consulting days).

Don't sign anything until you know the terms of the deal. Say "no thanks" to anyone who tries to rush you. If that person doesn't allow you mull over the "offer," then skedaddle to the nearest exit – or hang up the phone.

Always use a credit card for your travel spending. This gives you more protection than paying by cash or debit card, plus using one makes it easier to dispute unauthorized charges. Moreover, don't go off with a fistful of cards; when Hubby and I travel, I take one credit card and he takes a different one. That way, we have two for purchases and, if we max out one or if it's lost/stolen (God forbid to both!), we're still protected with another. Carrying more than these is asking for trouble if Petunia Pickpocket makes your acquaintance. Yes, playing smart demonstrates a definite plan to avoid identity theft. Along this same line, make copies of those credit cards, along with copies of driver's licenses, passports, and insurance cards (auto insurance, too, if renting a car).

Protect your identity and account information while you're traveling. Take only the IDs, credit cards and debit cards you need. Make copies so, if someone steals your bag, you'll know exactly what was lost. Leave all other important documents safe at home. And, finally, learn how to protect your mobile devices and personal information from hackers and malware.

Safe travels!

Contact Ellen Phillips at consumerwatch@timesfreepress.com

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