From now on, the big question before travelers might be whether they should check the Better Business Bureau before booking.
That’s because scammers have recently begun using social media in Kenya to ask travelers about their credit card and billing information to commit credit card fraud.
“We knew that one day this would happen,” said Rose Ikenga, chief executive of Everserve, a project that helps develop firms that serve the development sector in developing countries. “Social media is a tool that offers opportunities for people to take advantage of people.”
Over the last two years, Ikenga said, Everserve received complaints from people who had recently been in Kenya. Many of the complaints, she said, came from people who found themselves online and watching people explain to them that they had been interviewed. “I think they are just plain weird,” Ikenga said.
After the reports, Everserve’s project found it was using social media sites to advertise this fact: “Tourists with poor credit rating will not be booked.” But Ikenga was surprised to learn that the real problem wasn’t the credit rating of tourists to Kenya. Instead, the problem was Americans and European travelers: The scammers had copied an American travel company, Essential Tours, and an Irish company, Travelinsurance.org, which tried to sell the victims trips to Africa.
Ikenga said that in response to the scam, Everserve distributed information that indicated how to set up an e-mail account and identify safe sites to visit on the internet. Everserve also distributed tips on sites such as Blago.org, the Better Business Bureau’s website. The bureau has assigned the case its “scams of the week” bulletin.
Everserve’s warning didn’t stop there. The company said it had had “multiple warnings” from users at TripInsurance.org that they were being fleeced. “They’ve even told us they are going through all of their receipts trying to find out when, how and where their business is paid for,” Ikenga said.
Ikenga said that, in response to the warning, TripInsurance.org apologized to Everserve for the problem.
Ikenga said the scammers had obtained addresses in the United States through regular forms. “That is not a bad thing,” she said. “People have addresses here and there. We just think the scammers are using this to call the victims and threaten them.”
Ikenga called on Facebook, the travel company and the travel insurance companies to publicly announce that tourists were not responsible for having problems with their credit cards while traveling. And she urged travelers to follow Everserve’s advice. “If you don’t book, don’t show up, just don’t do anything,” she said.