Stop Online Booking Scams Act introduced in Congress.
(Feb. 17, 2016) A significant milestone was reached last week in the effort to stop rogue websites from misleading travelers when they reserve rooms online. The Stop Online Booking Scams Act was introduced in Congress by an influential list of bipartisan sponsors. If passed, the Act would require third-party hotel booking websites to clearly disclose that they are not affiliated with the hotel for which the traveler is ultimately making the reservation – ensuring that websites posing as hotels’ websites are stopped from scamming consumers.
The legislation would also:
- Empower state Attorneys General to pursue perpetrators in federal court with the same remedies available to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- Require the FTC to produce a report on the impact of these fraudulent sites on consumers.
- Encourage the FTC to simplify their online complaint procedure for reporting hotel booking scams.
This important action follows AH&LA’s efforts which began last March to educate members of Congress and the public on the deceptive practices performed by some rogue third-party online travel agencies. AH&LA worked with the bill’s sponsors to place an op-ed highlighting the legislation’s key elements in The Hill and AH&LA continues to reach out to interested media to share this significant Congressional action.
With online travel bookings surging over the past several years, averaging 480 hotel bookings per minute, so has the rate of scams. Research shows that an increasing number of consumers are misled into making hotel reservations through fraudulent websites and call centers that give the appearance of being a hotel’s website, but actually have no relation to the hotel.
As consumers increasingly move to mobile booking, smaller screens make it harder for consumers to differentiate between the scam site and the legitimate hotel’s website. Additionally, indications that could have otherwise been key to consumers knowing the difference, like URLs, are hidden at times.
These scams result in wholly lost reservations, undisclosed credit card charges on customers’ accounts, incorrect accommodations, the wrong services guests often need, such as disability access, the wrong set of amenities such as two double beds or rooms next to each other for families, or lost rewards points.
The Stop Online Booking Scams Act introduced today by Reps Lois Frankel (FL-22) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27), along with a bipartisan group of co-sponsors, will strengthen the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act to provide vital safeguards and take necessary corrective action to stop scammers from mimicking legitimate websites and taking consumers for a ride.
Original co-sponsors include: Reps. Lois Frankel (D-FL), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Bill Shuster (R-PA), Mimi Walters (R-CA), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Patrick Murphy (D-FL), Joe Heck, D.O. (R-NV), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Jeff Miller (R-FL), Bruce Poliquin (R-ME), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Mark Takano (D-CA), and Hank Johnson (D-GA).
“Our research clearly shows that consumers are worried about scams when booking online with third parties—and rightly so, because many of them have personally experienced very serious, horrible situations. This legislation is sorely needed to protect against any more consumers falling victim to this kind of unscrupulous activity,” said Katherine Lugar, President and CEO of AH&LA.
You Can Help Ensure Passage of this Important Legislation
AH&LA is asking members – to participate in our grassroots efforts and encourage your Member of Congress to sign onto the bill. Click here, for a sample letter to send your Congress member urging them to co-sponsor the Stop Online Booking Scams Act. AH&LA members can send the letter from here.