As I noted in last week’s blog (“Timely Travel Tips”), the vacation season brings out scammers with increasingly sophisticated scams.  Hugo Martin wrote about another type of scam that is snaring unsuspecting victims.  This one has to do with bogus hotel websites — and it’s a scam that takes advantage, as Mr. Martin notes, of the small smartphone screens (“Hotel booking scams cost Americans up to $220 million per year”; http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-hotel-booking-scam-costing-americans-up-to-220-million-per-year-20150430-story.html; May 3rd).

How does this scam work?  Like many website scams, this one starts with a hotel website that looks very legitimate.  Mr. Martin spoke with Ms. Maryam Cope, Vice President for Government Affairs for the the American Hotel and Lodging Association; she provided Mr. Martin with much of the background information.  Additionally, she told Mr. Martin that many of the sites use the same logos, symbols and emblems as a legitimate hotel.  The unsuspecting vacation planner goes onto one of these sites, enters his personal and financial information and then thinks he’s booked a room.

Has the individual booked a room?  No, and it’s a reality that might only be evident when he shows up at the hotel.  Moreover, As Mr. Martin writes, some of these scam websites will sometimes take a commission or a deposit.

How can someone tell if one of these websites is a scam or legitimate?  A key tipoff Mr. Martin notes is the following: the bogus hotel website doesn’t give individuals the option of making special requests, such as for a cot for the room or a room to accommodate someone with physical limitation.

Ms. Cope says the American Hotel and Lodging Association has asked Congress and the Attorney General to look into this problem.  The Association estimates that there could be as many as 2 1/2 million travelers scammed each year.

It is very easy to miss something when reading a website on a smartphone.  People planning vacations should carefully review a hotel website  before booking a reservation.  Taking the time to do so can help avoid having a vacation ruined before it’s even started.