WASHINGTON – The federal government and state justice officials need to crack down on online hotel booking scams that are costing vacationers upwards of $1.3 billion a year in bogus reservations, two Florida lawmakers said Wednesday.
Reps. Lois Frankel, a Democrat, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, have introduced legislation to get the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general involved in regulating hotel booking sites and force third-party booking sites to disclose that they are not affiliated with hotels.
“People save up for their vacation and unknowingly go on these web pages,” Frankel said. “It’s not only a rip-off to the visitor, but also to the hotel that is innocent and getting the brunt of the visitor’s aggravation.”
Almost 15 million hotel reservations were booked on deceptive booking sites last year, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association.
“Our research clearly shows that consumers are worried about scams when booking online with third parties,” said Katherine Lugar, president of the American Hotel & Lodging Association. “Rightly so, because many of them have personally experience very serious, horrible situations.”
For travelers, the scams take the form of additional hidden fees when they arrive, failure to get the type of room they requested or even learning there was never a reservation made.
“They (consumers) should not have to be a detective to determine whether or not they are booking directly with the hotel,” said Lugar. “It is always safest and best to book direct – so consumers should have that option.”
The bill would give state attorneys general the power to go after scammers in federal court so that victims can get their money back and fraudulent sites are held accountable more quickly.
The legislation also urges the FTC to simplify its online complaint system to make it easier for victims, both vacationers and hoteliers, to file complaints when scams occur.
Frankel said she has been in talks with the FTC before about the complex complaint system, and wants the agency to produce a report on the impact of hotel bookings fraud on consumers.