Hotel booking scams are on the rise partly because 1 in 3 vacations is set up online, with many hotel and airline reservations punched in on those tiny, hard-to-read smartphone screens.
Now a hotel trade group is asking Congress and the U.S. attorney general's office to take action on the problem, which may be bilking 2.5 million travelers each year.
"If you book the room online you may not find out there is a problem until you show up at the front desk," said Maryam Cope, vice president for government affairs at the American Hotel and Lodging Assn.
In the most common scam, travelers will book on an online site that resembles a legitimate booking site, only to find out later that the site was bogus, Cope said. Bogus sites may resemble legitimate hotel sites, even adopting the logos and emblems of major hotel chains, she said. It may be hard to tell the difference on a tiny smartphone screen.
In some cases, the bogus website will take a commission but will fail to include special requests, such as a room with an extra cot or disabled guest access. In other cases, the bogus website will simply take a guest's deposit and make no reservation at all.
Cope estimates that the scams are costing U.S. travelers more than $220 million a year.
"They are not getting cracked down on for this," she said. "And until they do, they will continue to do it."
On behalf of the hotel trade group, five members of Congress have written to the U.S. attorney general's office, asking the Justice Department to spread the word about the scams.
"If the hotel booking site doesn't look right, it probably isn't," she said. "If you suspect something, call the hotel directly."