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AI-Powered Vacation Scams Show Up Right on Time

As travelers pack their bags for long-awaited summer trips, a new breed of scammer is tagging along — powered by artificial intelligence (AI). From fake rental listings to phantom flight deals, AI-assisted travel fraud is surging, leaving vacationers out of pocket and out of luck. Industry watchdogs and cybersecurity experts warn that traditional safeguards are struggling to keep pace, but they’re also exploring how the same technology might be harnessed to outsmart the swindlers.

The rise of AI-powered scams has made vigilance more crucial than ever for would-be vacationers. “Scammers utilize AI to mimic or impersonate popular travel websites by recreating familiar branding, logos, or company verbiage,” Darius Kingsley, managing director and head of consumer banking practices at Chase Bank, told PYMNTS.

The rise of AI-powered scams in the travel industry has significant implications for eCommerce and online transactions in general. Businesses in the digital marketplace must now invest heavily in advanced cybersecurity measures and customer education to protect their platforms and users from increasingly sophisticated AI-driven fraud attempts.

The AI Scam Landscape

The scale of the problem is alarming. A McAfee report reveals that 30 percent of adults have fallen victim (or know someone who has fallen victim) to online scams while trying to save money on travel. Alisdair Faulkner, CEO and co-founder of Darwinium, a cybersecurity firm, told PYMNTS that fraudsters are increasingly targeting what he calls “low-hanging fruit” — the customers themselves.

“The travel scams we are seeing this summer are not necessarily new, but they are being supercharged by generative AI tools that fraudsters are using to create realistic content,” Lee Clark, manager of cyberthreat intelligence production at the Retail and Hospitality Information Sharing and Analysis Center, told PYMNTS.

One common tactic involves fake listings on legitimate travel sites. “These listings look authentic thanks to AI-generated text and images,” Clark warned. “But clicking on a link in the fraudulent listing may send you to a fake booking website that collects your credit card details and other personal information.” Even more alarmingly, he noted that “sometimes these fraudulent listings also contain links that, when clicked, infect your device with malware.”

Another prevalent strategy is social engineering. “Fraudsters will often try to move a victim away from a trusted platform’s payment protocols and ask them to make a direct payment from their bank to the fraudster,” Faulkner cautioned. He urged caution when faced with requests for direct bank transfers, reminding travelers that “in regions with faster payment protocols, this money is transferred instantly and may be hard to track once it has left your account.”

Staying Safe in an AI-Powered World

To combat these risks, experts emphasize vigilance and adherence to best practices. “Always pay through the service’s official website,” Kingsley urged. “Keep all your communication with the host contained within the booking site or app so you have a full record, and the booking company can help if needed.”

Skepticism is key when encountering deals that seem too good to be true. “If a listing price seems unusually low or otherwise too good to be true, it’s probably a scam. Consumers should be skeptical of anything significantly cheaper than similar options,” Clark advised.

Both Kingsley and Clark recommend thorough research before booking. “As part of your travel research, do scam checks by looking up unfamiliar retail, travel, and services sites online by searching for their names along with terms like ‘scam,’ ‘complaints’ or ‘reviews,’” suggested Kingsley.

Certain red flags can help identify potential scams. “Beware of listings with a sudden surge of positive reviews, especially if they seem generic or repetitive,” Clark warned. “Additionally, legitimate businesses will have clear contact information and a physical address. Be wary of listings lacking these details.”

The pressure of last-minute bookings can make even savvy travelers vulnerable. Faulkner painted a familiar scenario: “Let’s say someone was waiting for hours at the airport only to find out at 11 p.m. that their flight was canceled, and the next flight out isn’t until the next afternoon.” In such stressful situations, he cautions, “All it takes is a click to lose your money.”

On the industry side, travel companies are grappling with new challenges posed by AI-powered fraud. “Deepfakes are frighteningly effective at circumventing many legacy, identity-based controls,” Faulkner said. The solution, he suggested, lies in more sophisticated systems that can infer a user’s intent, not just their identity.

As AI continues to reshape the travel landscape — for better and worse — it’s clear that travelers and companies must stay one step ahead. Kingsley offered a final reminder of cybersecurity basics: “Be mindful of using open Wi-Fi to log into accounts and be vigilant when using ATMs on the road. Remember to always look around you and log off from your banking session when you are done.”

In this new era of AI-assisted travel scams, a combination of high-tech tools, industry innovation, and old-fashioned common sense may be the best defense against turning your dream vacation into a nightmare.