“I was scammed of over 3 million naira trying to get into Canada. I was even sent a fake Canadian permit so it looked all real” – a victim of a fake travel agency.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of fake travel agents. It is not exactly surprising that year in, year out, many fall victim to them. These phony agents have mastered the art of identifying gullible first time flyers. Losing hard-earned money to what the Yoruba clan of Nigeria call “apanilekunjaye”, meaning “those who make others cry to enjoy life” is truly a bitter experience. Hence, the question, “How do I identify a fake travel agency / agent?”
How to identify a fake Travel Agency / Agent
In this article, we will be opening your eyes to 12 signs that a travel agency or agent is a scam, including:
Do not become prey to them, losing both money and time because you did not pay attention to the warning signs. Neither should you allow your fear of falling victim stop you from exploring the world.
1. Overly cheap prices
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Fake travel agents know how to present mouth-watering offers to unsuspecting travelers. Do not lose your life savings over ‘Greek gifts’. Evaluate and reevaluate while checking for other signs that identify phony travel agents.
That it sounds affordable does not make it legit. Imagine getting an offer of 500,000 naira for a visa and travel to Canada from Nigeria. Sounds cheap but is obviously an impossible transaction. If you go ahead to pay for such, your greed versus theirs, case closed.
2. Demands for cash payments
No reputable travel agency will demand that you pay ONLY in cash or via wire transfers. They will very well advise that you make payments with your credit cards. According to Stacy Small, the president of Brentwood, California-based Elite Travel International, “I’ve never heard of a legitimate travel agent only accepting cash.”
When your travel agent asks you to pay in cash or send a check well in advance of your travel, be wary.
3. No verifiable accreditation
Not every travel agency or agent has certifications, but genuine ones should at the very least belong to a recognized organization that makes them verifiable. They should belong to a body that can hold them accountable.
One major benefit of dealing with an accredited travel agent is that should he or she misbehave, you have a recognized organization to which you can tender a report. For Americans, there is the International Association of Travel Agents Network (IATAN) while Nigeria has the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA). You might want to confirm if they are also accredited by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN).
For Nigerians, just as you would search to verify if a job interview is legit on Nairaland, you can do the same for travel agents/agencies on the platform. You can also visit the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) portal to check if the agency is registered.
4. No follow-up
When your travel agent is often impossible to reach, that is a warning sign. You cannot expect him or her to be reachable 24/7 but if he disappears after you pay, you have probably been scammed.
A good travel agent follows up. He lets you know what you have to do next even before you ask. Even after booking your trip, they follow up with reminders and for first-time flyers, they might show up at the airport. Their service does not stop at you leaving the country, they even want to know how your trip was and if you settled in fine.
Fake travel agents do not care about all that. You are always the one on their tail and they are never reachable when something goes wrong.
5. Does not listen or make recommendations
To differentiate a fake agent from a genuine one, pay attention to how they listen and the suggestions they make. Fake travel agents are often unable to answer questions about the application process without stuttering or being evasive.
When you try to bring a genuine concern to the fore, they waive it. They make you believe that your travel is 100% guaranteed without clear-cut talks on how they are going to make that possible.
Also, note that an agent that promises you a hundred percent guarantee on getting a visa is most likely fake because real travel agents know that visas are issued at the discretion of the consulate of the country you intend to visit or relocate to.
A competent agent will listen, make recommendations, and provide you with information you typically won’t find on the internet about your travel.
6. No one has heard of them
This is a huge red flag. If it is a travel agency or agent that does not have a physical office or a noticeable online presence, flee! No online presence and sign of life on the internet is a pointer that that agent is likely fake.
Of course, it’s easy to create fake travel websites and hide behind them, but you can learn how to identify fake travel websites.
For a legit travel agency with a website, there should be reviews online. Check social media platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. You should find both good and bad reviews about them. Except the agent is a small operator with many third-party reviews from those who have actually worked with him or her, treat a lack of online presence as a red flag.
7. They are averse to meeting in person
In this age, we do a lot of things online. We even hold weddings with the bride and groom at different locations. But, with the influx of fake travel agents in the travel industry, it is often wise to not just talk to your agent over the phone. Suggest meeting them in person and see how they react.
Are they averse to the idea of meeting in person? Do they only want to meet you at a location they choose? Do they refuse to give you things in writing? If your answer to all three questions is yes, be wary. No legit travel agent will refuse to meet you in person and want only phone conversations as a means of communication.
8. Reviews look too good to be true
Good reviews are a fine way to decide whether to work with a travel agent/agency or not. Third-party recommendations are a huge thing. But, if the reviews look too good to be true, there might be some real cause for concern.
People pay others to give good reviews or might create fake accounts or hide under the name tag “anonymous” to give themselves those perfect reviews.
Note that humans are insatiable and you can’t always get a 5-star review from clients. Hence, a mixture of the good and the bad but the good more than the bad is often more realistic. Find out how to spot fake travel reviews.
9. Encourages shortcuts
Encouraging shortcuts instead of going through the normal process is a NO-NO. If your agents start giving you classes on how to deceive immigration officials, please run. Or probably, they urge you to travel via a route different from the norm. Such suggestions raise questions about their authenticity as a travel agent or agency. Do not go with a travel agent who is constantly suggesting that you go through the back door.
10. They urge you to pay for forged documents
Fake agents always want to doctor documents that show that you are obviously not qualified for an application process. Genuine travel agents and agencies will not ask you to pay for forged documents because they have a reputation to protect. Fake agents, on the other hand, do not have any reputation to uphold. They are more concerned about making money off you as an unsuspecting traveller.
11. They know nothing about your destination
Travel agents are more like specialists. They are supposed to be well-read, well-traveled, and well-acquainted with various destinations. If your travel agent knows nothing about your travel destination, it’s a cue to be alert and cautious. If it is a travel agency, they should have more than one travel agent with experience processing travel to a wide range of places.
As such, even if you meet a travel agent with little or no knowledge about your destination, you can be transferred to another agent who knows. But should you say, “I want to relocate to Luxembourg” and the agent goes, “Where is that? Never heard of it.”, just look elsewhere.
12. They do not want you to contact them first
The question is “why?”. A genuine travel agent should at the very least be available during business hours. You should be able to call and share your concerns or have your questions answered via emails or chats. If a travel agent says, “I will call you. Don’t call or contact me”, it is a sign that you are in the wrong place.
13. They give 100% visa guarantee
Truth be told, unless you work for the embassy or you’re a divine power, when it comes to visa applications no travel agent can directly influence the outcome of an application. Travel agencies or agents have the expertise and experience on what needs to be done and submitted to get a visa granted, but at the end of the day it’s the embassy’s call to make the decision.
In this post, we’ve explored the most common signs to look out for when identifying fake travel agents. It is by no means an exhaustive list but it will get you started and come in very handy. Do not get carried away by seemingly appealing offers that these suspicious agents make. Also, learn to trust your instincts. If you have a gut feeling that something is fishy, walk away.
As a legit travel community with tested and trusted travel agents, you can visit us at Urban Nomads to speak with any of our travel specialists who are always on ground to make your travel dreams realities.