Imagine getting home after a long day of work and checking your voicemails - you have one from a woman claiming that you've won a free vacation. She explains that you entered a raffle and you were selected as a winner and to call back as soon as possible. Could this be true? You don't remember signing up for any raffle that advertised a free vacation as a prize.
You decide not to call back - it's too good to be true - but the next day you have another voicemail from the same women stating that she's following up on her call from yesterday and that this is a final warning. Your will lose the free vacation if you don't call back. You figure you have nothing to lose so you call the number. Once you have someone on the line they tell you about the deluxe suite in the 5-star hotel that you'll be staying at in the Bahamas. There is one catch though: You need to pay a prize tax of $250 to receive your vacation.
You think about it. It seems like a small fee to pay for such a luxurious vacation, but you still don't remember ever entering this raffle and things aren't adding up. You say you need to think about it and hang up. Afterwards you look up the phone number and you find out that this is a total scam, in fact it's one of the most common phone scams out there. Good thing you trusted your instincts. Some people aren't as lucky.
Not all free vacation phone scams will be as elaborate as this one, some may just be automated calls with pre-recorded messages stating that you've won a Disney trip for your family, or a romantic Caribbean cruise for two. Regardless of the destination, these scams will always have a catch and the ultimate goal of conning you out of your money.
How to identify a free vacation scam
Some free vacation offers might seem more legitimate than others. You can quickly identify any free vacation or prize giveaway phone scam by looking out for these three things:
1. It starts with a automated call
Almost every free vacation scam or prize giveaway will start with an automated call that instructs you to call back to claim your prize. The message might state that you've won this for filling out a survey or entering a raffle. Another hallmark of the automated call is that they will instruct you to press a number if you'd like to be removed from their calling list.
2. It requests you pay up-front fees
You'll be asked to pay "nominal" up-front fees to be eligible to claim your free vacation - such as a travel club membership, reservation deposit, or taxes and fees. Don't expect to hear anything more about your supposed vacation after paying up hundreds of dollars.
3. It requires you attend a live presentation
Another scam caller approach is to require you to attend a live presentation to claim your prize. A speaker will aggressively pitch a group of potential victims to buy into a vacation club or timeshare package. But the package is likely nonexistent, or will purposely have few available dates and costly hidden fees.
If you decline the scam membership and pursue the initial free vacation offer for attending the presentation, you'll find the trip is nonexistent as well - receiving fraudulent vouchers, if anything.
Don't press 1
In any of the above cases do not press a number to be removed from a call list. When you get an automated call offering a free vacation, or any free service, and you're instructed to press another number to be removed from the calling list just hang up. This is a test to see if the phone number they are calling is in service and is being used by someone. When you press a number to remove yourself you'll often end up receiving even more spam and nuisance calls moving forward.
It's best to add your number to the Do Not Call registry if you haven't done so already, after doing so you can file complaints against any spam calls you receive.