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How to spot and avoid travel scams

WASHINGTON—Does a travel bargain sound too good to be true? Here's how to tell if it is:

_ Research the company. The Better Business Bureau, state attorney general and Federal Trade Commission keep records of complaints. Check out the company with them, the local Chamber of Commerce or the American Society of Travel Agents. Call the state consumer services office to see if the travel company is properly certified.

_ Research the offer. Ask detailed questions about what is and isn't included. Read the fine print on cancellation policies, refunds, additional fees or taxes. Get all information in writing. Contact the airline or hotel independently to verify the arrangement.

_ Be skeptical. "Free" or bargain offers may have hidden costs. Ask what it means that the deal is "all-inclusive" or the hotel is "four-star." Find out the amount of port charges or applicable taxes.

_ Consider the source. Be suspicious of unsolicited free and bargain offers by mail or fax. Telemarketers aren't the travel providers, so find out who is and contact them directly.

_ Pay by credit card. This assures your right to dispute the charges. Don't give your credit or bank information by phone unless you know the company. Your credit card information should never be needed for "verification purposes" for trips advertised as free or for any other reason prior to booking.

_ Don't get pressured into buying or making quick decisions over the phone. When in doubt, just say no.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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