Scams on hotel-booking-website users. Also, cruise ships and norovirus.

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the November 2015 issue.
A Tibetan man making a spool of wool from yak hair — China. Photo ©piccaya/

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 477th issue of your monthly foreign travel magazine.

In ITN, we print letters and articles provided by our subscribers. 

After your next trip outside of the US, or if you’ve recently returned from one, write about anything other travelers might appreciate knowing about. A way to save money. A way to save time. A place with a warm welcome. Or maybe a site you would have preferred to avoid.

When you share your travel knowledge with ITN readers, someone will surely come out ahead.

Aside from travelers’ reports, in each issue you’ll read travel-related news items as well as articles by selected columnists. And all of the advertisements you’ll see are travel-related, including some that can be found in no other publications. Supporting our advertisers helps keep the news coming.

Here are a couple of items you might appreciate knowing about.


Recently, the Federal Trade Commission was asked to look into a type of online-hotel-booking scam that is affecting travelers. I’ll explain what to watch out for. 

A scammer creates a website that mimics a popular, trusted, hotel-booking website, such as To a casual observer, there may be no difference between the two sites. 

Through means such as unsolicited emails, invitations on social media or a misleading website address (URL), the scammer attracts victims, who unwittingly give up their personal information and credit card numbers in order to book rooms. Unfortunately, when the travelers show up at their destinations, they will be shocked to find they have no reservations.

Fortunately, there are ways to help protect yourself from this type of scam. Some advice is offered in the “Think Security Guide” provided by the Internet security firm Kaspersky Lab (

For example, the best way to avoid scams, of course, is to not open unsolicited emails. If you have never signed up to receive emails from a particular travel website but receive an email from one anyway, you should erase it without clicking on any link. If you must look, then avoid opening any attachments or clicking on links or images. 

If you find a deal in an email too good to pass up, instead of clicking on a link or an image in the email, physically type into your browser the URL that you are familiar with for the company that is being advertised (or go to the page from a Google search, if necessary). If that advertised deal is not available on the actual website of the known company, the email you received might be a scam. 

If you have signed up for email updates from a travel website, try to make sure the email you are looking at was actually sent from that site. Check the Web address that follows the “@” sign in the sender’s email address; if it’s not exactly the same as that of the website it purports to be from, the message could be a scam. 

Also, be aware that a scammer is able to create a link that has the text of a URL of a legitimate company (such as “”) but which, when clicked on, will take you to a different, fraudulent site that in many ways appears to be the correct website but which has a different URL. So, if you do click on a link within a suspect email, make sure that the URL of the site you’re taken to is the one you intended to reach. 

Many scam websites have been set up to take advantage of common misspellings. Take care to correctly type the URL of any website you wish to visit.

Again, if you meant to have visited and find yourself on or, consider that it might be a scam site. (Note that while the common URL misspelling “” is registered to and typing that will get you forwarded to the correct site, “” and “” are not registered to Do NOT visit these example sites, by the way; they might host computer viruses.)

A possible red flag — instead of “.com,” some scam-site URLs may end in a country code like “.ru” (Russia), “.cn” (China) or that of any other country that is a common source of online scams.

When you are on a website you are not familiar with, look for a company’s contact information, that is, a phone number and/or street address. Even though some legitimate companies do not provide this information, scam sites are more likely to leave it out.

Even on a website that you trust, if you make it as far as the point of purchase, check the address bar (the box containing the URL). If the company provides a secure, encrypted server across which to send your personal information, the website’s URL will start with “https://”, not “http://”. 

Also, if the website is secure, your browser (such as Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox or Safari) will show an icon/symbol of a padlock near the address bar.

If the server is not secure, think twice about submitting personal information, such as a credit card number, to the solicitor. Regardless of whether or not a company is legitimate, it is always very risky to send private information through a nonencrypted connection. And no company should ever ask for you to send your payment information via email.

Finally, if you are concerned that an email or website is impersonating that of a more-well-known company, there are a couple of steps you can take to possibly prevent further fraud.

Directly contact the widely known company that is being represented in the scam and report it to them. (Remember, visit the legitimate website to find the company’s phone number or email address.)

The FBI maintains a website where you can report any scam you are a victim of or any attempted scam, online or offline: It also offers tips on avoiding being scammed. Another government website,, provides advice specifically on avoiding online scams.


A bit of cruise news —

To help prevent the spread of norovirus aboard its cruise ships, Crystal Cruises has instituted a strict no-handshaking rule for its captains during any meetings or interactions with passengers.

Cunard Line ships’ passengers, too, have reported that shaking the captain’s hand is taboo, and Carnival Cruise Lines forbids passengers from shaking hands with any of the ships’ officers if medical staff has determined that an illness is spreading through the ship. Rather than have them shake hands, Azamara Club Cruises is asking passengers and the captain and crewmembers only to fist-bump.

Norovirus, a gastrointestinal virus that causes fever, nausea and diarrhea, is easily transmitted between people and has become a scourge of the cruise industry. As of press time, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have documented nine norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships during 2015, the last in April-May and the worst occurring on Royal Caribbean International’s Grandeur of the Seas, Jan. 24-Feb. 3, with 198 people (10.16% of the passengers) and nine crew members infected. 

Compare that to the worst outbreak of 2014, which had 634 cases of norovirus among 3,071 passengers on Royal Caribbean International’s Explorer of the Seas, Jan. 21-31.

In a related story out of England, in August a judge in London’s Central County Court ruled against a class of passengers who had sued Thomson Spirit Cruises (owned by the Louis Group and operated by Celestyal Cruises) after an illness outbreak during a 2009 cruise. The passengers had argued that it was a food-borne illness, but it was later determined to be norovirus.

The court decided that the company was not liable for an illness brought on board by passengers IF the cruise line had procedures in place that would be taken when an outbreak occurred and if those procedures were properly carried out. The judge determined that these had been done by Thomson Spirit.

In the US, passengers who become ill from norovirus on a cruise must prove that their illness was due to negligence on the part of the crew or cruise line before a court will find a cruise line monetarily responsible, and this is unlikely, considering the prevalence of the virus in the general population and the ease of transmitting it.

Something to note — a study published in the American Society for Microbiology’s journal Applied and Environmental Biology on Aug. 28 stated that researchers have found evidence of norovirus genotypes in oyster tissue, suggesting raw oysters as a possible vector in norovirus outbreaks.


A CORRECTION to note —

In the Travel Brief “Female Cruise Liner Captain” (Oct. ’15, pg. 62), we reported that, in July, Celebrity Cruises’ Kate McCue had become the first female captain in cruise industry history. However, Kate was not the first female to captain a major cruise ship; she was the first female American to do so.

Vickie Barela of Ellensburg, Washington, noticed the error and wrote to say, “We have sailed twice with Captain Inger Olsen, who, while we don’t know if she was the first female captain of a cruise ship, was appointed captain of Cunard Line’s Queen Victoria in December of 2010. She is one of the best captains we have had the privilege of sailing with.”

The first woman to helm a major cruise ship was Karin Stahre-Janson of Sweden, who became captain of Royal Caribbean International’s Monarch of the Seas in 2007. Our apologies to all of the capable women captains whom we overlooked with this error.


We’ve made an addition to our website.

For all of the articles that have run in his column “Eye On Travel Insurance,” which appears occasionally in ITN, Contributing Editor Wayne Wirtanen has written one-line summaries to accompany the titles posted on our website.

Looking at the list of all of his travel insurance articles, printed from May 1991 to May 2014, now you can quickly get a good idea of the topic or topics of each.

Here’s an example: [September 2012] “The Preexisting-condition Clause” — This article is for travelers who want the preexisting-condition clause waived when buying a full-feature travel insurance policy.

You’ll find the list at or you can go to ITN’s homepage and hover over “Departments” and then “Columns,” clicking on “Eye On Travel Insurance.”

If you are computer-less, you can order a copy of the index by sending $2.50 to Wayne Wirtanen, 4341 Shangri-la, Placerville, CA 95667. Once you have the list, you can order reprints for $2.50 as well.


Our standing offer — We will send a free sample copy of the next-printed issue of this magazine to any of your traveling friends or fellow tour group members. They can take a look-see and decide whether or not they want to subscribe. (For a year’s worth of issues, it’s only $2 per month.) We do not pass along people’s names and addresses to any other firms (except for the company that keeps track of ITN subscriptions).

MaryLou Shortess of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, took us up on this. She sent in a list of names and addresses along with the note, “These people are anxious to get a copy of ITN. On an Amazon Basin river trip, I placed a copy of the November 2014 edition (with a South America feature article) on a table next to a sign-up sheet. I always get takers when we travel.” 

Or you could introduce the magazine to someone by buying a gift subscription (see page 9). It might result in a note like the one we got a few months back from Gail Scherer of Plymouth, Michigan: “I am a new subscriber to ITN and am really enjoying all the stories and travel information.”

Or in a note like this one, which came from Dale J. Daly of Elroy, Wisconsin: “Dear Friends at ITN, I so look forward to receiving copies of ITN. It has sustained my spirit during a dormant period of my life and kept the spirit of travel burning like glowing embers.

“Just reading the travel experiences of others has been like breaths of oxygen that fan the flames of a passion for travel.”

People share their travels in ITN to help out other travelers, but we’ll never know about all of the ways in which readers ultimately benefit.