FTC chairwoman responds to request to investigate fake hotel booking sites

Edith Ramirez says FTC preparing educational materials to warn consumers about fake sites


PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – More than two dozen lawmakers have asked to the Federal Trade Commission to investigate fake hotel booking sites that are ripping off tourists, and now the FTC chairwoman is responding to their request.

"I can assure you that we will carefully consider the information you provided in determining whether enforcement or other action is appropriate," wrote Edith Ramirez in part. "Moreover, we intend to prepare consumer education materials cautioning consumers about third-party websites that may deceptively mimic hotel websites."

A recent RetailMeNot.com and Omnibus survey found that due to the convenience of around-the-clock booking and the ability to easily shop for travel deals, close to three in five Americans use travel websites to book their travel.

While consumers are trying to score a deal, travel experts tell Local 10 News that scammers are piggybacking off the popularity of online booking sites by setting up fake websites.

"Unfortunately, the websites go up and come down so quickly that the consumer has no idea that they have been scammed until they show up at the hotel," said Heidi Dennis, general manager of the Atlantic Hotel and Spa on Fort Lauderdale Beach.

"This has been an ongoing problem, just talking to other hoteliers," she said.

According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, 2.5 million hotel reservations were made nationwide through misleading booking websites.

South Florida hotel managers said they've had to turn away customers with what looked like legitimate confirmations.

"A lady came to the front desk, she had a confirmation, it looked like ours but we didn't have her name in our system," Dennis said. "When we started to dig deep to find out what was going on, the confirmation had pictures of our hotel, it had the name of our hotel, but it had a completely different street address. Then when we looked at the Web address, it wasn't anything we recognized --not one of the major third parties, like TripAdvisor or Expedia and the rate was so low. That was also a red flag."

"Come to find out, she had actually booked online, got a room, they took our pictures, the description of our hotel, but it wasn't our hotel. I was so upset, I felt so bad for her. People need to know if it is too good to be true, it probably is. My advice is (to) call to confirm the rate and website with the hotel directly."

Dennis said that in this case, the customer was out the money that she paid to the website, and the Atlantic was not just sold out at the time, but going rates were three to four times higher than the price that the customer had been quoted on the bogus hotel booking website.

"We did find her somewhere else to go, but she has already paid her money, so she lost her money," Dennis said. "How many people is it going to take to lose their money before somebody takes action?"

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