Airbnb con artists warning. Also, a ruling on cruise lines and the disabled.

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the October 2015 issue.
This is subscriber only post.
Get one year of online-only access — only $15!
Below is a sample of the article.
Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.
‘You watch my back. I’ll watch yours.’ This is a common practice among resting, ever-wary zebras — Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania. Photo by David Tykol

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 476th issue of your foreign travel magazine. 

Each month we mail out a number of free sample copies. If you’re reading ITN for the first time, all you really need to know about this publication is that we cover destinations outside of the US, and, except for the rare Feature by a staffer or Contributing Editor, all of the Feature Articles and letters are written by our subscribers, people who enjoy traveling and want to share their findings with other travelers.

Here’s what one of our subscribers, Linda Davis of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, wrote to us recently: “I wanted you to know just how much I appreciate receiving ITN and look forward to each issue. This is one magazine that I read the same day I receive it!

“I have learned so much — sites to visit, tour companies and agencies that may be used for future travel, what clothing to pack, even the options for the best credit card to use. 

“The readers’ feedback has encouraged me, as a single who usually travels with a group, to consider some independent trips. And the stories are very informative, with so many suggestions for exploring the world, making it fun and exciting to plan for the next trip, even considering countries that I have never previously considered.

“Thank you for offering all this info in one great magazine.”

Read through this issue, and if you find even one suggestion that may save you money, time or trouble on your next trip, or if you find some item interesting or just entertaining, turn to the subscription page (page 9) and peruse our guarantees. A year’s worth of issues costs only $2 a month. Consider the return on such a small investment.

True to the magazine’s name, we also provide travel-related news. I have the following items, to start.

 

The British newspaper The Telegraph printed a story on Aug. 20, 2015, warning that some people using Airbnb (www.airbnb.com) were victims of a scam by con artists that cost them a great deal of money, one person losing £900 (near $1,400).

The scam works like this. After selecting a room and using the website to pay the agreed-upon amount, the renter receives an email from the property owner’s account — via Airbnb’s email-forwarding service — telling the renter that the credit card payment did not go through and asking for the money to, instead, be wired directly to the owner.

An eager renter who wires the money without first verifying that his credit card transaction has not gone through will find out later that his first payment was, in fact, successfully processed and that the second, wired payment did not go to the property owner but to the scammer, with no way for the renter to retrieve his money. (Under normal circumstances, if a transaction does not go through, the renter is notified by Airbnb, not by the property owner.)

Because the email comes from the property owner’s Airbnb account, the renter has no reason to believe that he is communicating with anyone other than the owner. 

The scammer likely gets access to a property owner’s account through “phishing.” He sends emails posing as an employee of Airbnb and asks property owners to verify their accounts with personal information, including account passwords. Some owners (who aren’t paying close attention) respond to the requests, never suspecting that their accounts have been hacked.

The scammer then waits for someone to rent from one of those owners, at which point he logs into the owner’s account with the stolen password and sends the renter the email requesting the payment to be wired. 

Airbnb does not hold itself responsible for such scams and will not refund money lost due to one. On their website, Airbnb instructs renters to pay only online through its payment system, reminding renters twice in its help section (www.airbnb.com/help/article/241 and at www.airbnb.com/help/article/209). The company goes so far as to state in its Terms of Service (www.airbnb.com/terms) that it prohibits paying for rentals outside of the website.

If you are suspicious that a message sent through Airbnb is a scam, the company allows you to “flag” the message by clicking on the flag icon located in the message, or you can write to them at safety@airbnb.com.

 

Here’s a story that may interest many cruise lovers.

On July 23, 2015, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and Carnival Corporation announced an important agreement on a settlement regarding alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The settlement affects the ships of Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises and Holland America Line, the three lines owned by Carnival Corp. that have headquarters in the US. (Carnival Corp. also owns Cunard Line, Costa Cruises and P&O Cruises, among others.)

The DOJ began investigating Carnival Corp. after receiving numerous complaints from disabled passengers stating that the cruise lines failed to provide seating accessible to them in onboard restaurants and entertainment venues, did not maintain enough accessible cabins to meet reservation needs, had embarkation and disembarkation procedures that were difficult for people with disabilities (the mobility impaired, blind, etc.), and did not provide disabled guests the same opportunities as other passengers in regard to excursions, programs and services.

During the investigation, the DOJ found that Carnival Corp. was violating certain sections of Title III of the ADA. Before the investigation was completed, however, the company decided to settle with the DOJ without admitting to any violations.

According to the agreement, on 49 ships (42 in service and seven under construction), at least 3% of the cabins, across all classes, must be handicapped-accessible, and guests with disabilities will be able to reserve them specifically. 

In addition, Carnival Corp. employees and managers will be given specific ADA training. Also, an ADA officer will be aboard each ship to ensure ADA compliance and to assist guests with disabilities should their needs fail to be met.

The terms of the agreement call for Carnival Corp. to finish the training and the ship improvements within about one year of the settlement date. Thirteen other ships operated by the company may also fall under the terms of the agreement if they are still embarking and disembarking in US waters or those of its territories four years from the settlement date.

Carnival Corp. also is required to pay a $55,000 penalty to the US government and $350,000 to the guests who were determined to have been harmed by violations of the ADA.

The full terms of the settlement can be found at www.ada.gov/carnival/carnival_sa.html.

 

CORRECTIONS and a clarification:

• We printed in our September 2015 issue, on page 30, a hotel recommendation from Marilyn Hill: “Central to almost everything in Paris, including Notre-Dame on the Left Bank, just across the Seine, Hôtel Saint-Louis en l’Isle (75 rue Saint-Louis en l’Île, 75004 Paris, France; phone +33 [0] 1 46 34 04 80, www.saintlouisenlisle.com) is a delightful, well-run hotel.”

Actually, Notre Dame is located on Île de la Cité, an island located between the Left and Right banks of
the Seine and next to Île Saint-Louis, the island on which the hotel is located. We thank Everett Angell of Warrington, Pennsylvania, for pointing this out.

Also, Marilyn wrote to say that the room price she provided was incorrect. She and her daughter actually paid a total of 199 per night (not per person) plus a city tax of 3.30 per night.

She added, “I just checked the hotel’s website, and the price for our room category is now listed at 225 [near $253] for two, which is still a great price for such a well-located, boutique Paris hotel.”

• The Travel Brief “Carnival, MSC to Cuba” (Sept. ’15, pg. 4) reported that cruises to Havana, Cuba, from Miami with Carnival Cruise Lines had been approved by the US Department of the Treasury and also that the Swiss cruise line MSC Cruises had added Havana to the sailings of its MSC Opera

All of those cruises will, indeed, take place. However, Deanna Palic´ (known for having written ITN’s “Latin America” column in the past) informed us that she called MSC Cruises’ US office and was told that they cannot book Americans on cruises that have stops in Cuba.

 

It was in our October 2013 issue that we printed the letter “Ground Operator Stiffed, Travelers Stuck,” in which ITN subscriber Bruce Fink described what he and his wife and other tour members went through in Kenya and Tanzania when the ground operator personnel halted the safari vans at the side of the road and demanded to be paid the money that the managing US tour operator had promised them but never paid.

After several tense days, Mr. and Mrs. Fink coughed up several thousand dollars to continue their tour, as did several other tour members. Mr. Fink filed a claim with his credit card company and was reimbursed the $6,800 he and his wife had paid for their original tour with 2AFRIKA, but he hoped to collect more following an investigation that the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General opened on Kenneth Hieber, owner of 2AFRIKA.

I have been keeping in touch with Mr. Fink to learn how things turned out, and on May 20 he received the following email from the Assistant Prosecutor at a Special Investigations Unit in Jersey City:

“Mr. Hieber entered the Pre-Trial Intervention program in October 2014 with a condition of restitution to be paid. Mr. Hieber remains under the supervision of the Hudson County Probation Department… . It’s possible that some victims have received partial payments already and others have received nothing; however, all names of victims with addresses have been provided to Probation.

“I can report that Mr. Hieber had filed paperwork earlier this year for a temporary return of his passport, to which we objected, expressing our concern that he constitutes a flight risk based on his previous residence in South Africa. The judge agreed with our position and refused to order the return of his passport.”

On June 16, Mr. Fink emailed, “The Kenneth Hieber case has finally been resolved. I received a check from the Finance Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey for $31.43. No explanation included. I called the Probation department about the check and was told that it was my share of a settlement with Kenneth Hieber totaling $81,163, to be allocated among more than 20 claimants. As long as Kenneth continues to make regular monthly payments, he will not be arrested. 

“According to Probation, I am to receive a total of $3,937. At this rate, it will take approximately 10½ years.”

 

As one who has been handling travelers’ complaints about all kinds of travel-related businesses and services for almost four decades now, I feel I am qualified to pass along the following advice.

Before, during and after a trip, whenever you call a company to ask about anything related to your trip, keep notes. The number you called. The date and time you called. Who you spoke to and/or what position that person held. And who said what.

Keep receipts and paperwork long past your trip. If you end up lodging a complaint, you will get better results if you can provide evidence of what was promised to you.

Fortunately, these kinds of records are seldom needed. 

 

I’ll close with a note I’ve been meaning to share with you. It concerns the Feature Article “Keep On Traveling — Tips for the Mobility Impaired” by Kathryn Tisdale, which appeared way back in this year’s January issue.

George McAninch of Sunny Valley, Oregon, wrote, “It was my plan to discontinue traveling after suffering multiple back surgeries and loss of some use of both legs due to nerve damage. Then one day I opened my latest issue of International Travel News and read the article regarding a lady traveler using a scooter throughout a European trip. She gave me inspiration and the information I can use to get me back on the road!

“I thank Ms. Tisdale and ITN for saving my traveling life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Travelers writing for the benefit of other travelers. That’s what ITN is about.

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.
‘You watch my back. I’ll watch yours.’ This is a common practice among resting, ever-wary zebras — Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania. Photo by David Tykol

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 476th issue of your foreign travel magazine. 

Each month we mail out a number of free sample copies. If you’re reading ITN for the first time, all you really need to know about this publication is that we cover destinations outside of the US, and, except for the rare Feature by a staffer or Contributing Editor, all of the Feature Articles and letters are written by our subscribers, people who enjoy traveling and want to share their findings with other travelers.

Here’s what one of our subscribers, Linda Davis of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, wrote to us recently: “I wanted you to know just how much I appreciate receiving ITN and look forward to each issue. This is one magazine that I read the same day I receive it!

“I have learned so much — sites to visit, tour companies and agencies that may be used for future travel, what clothing to pack, even the options for the best credit card to use. 

“The readers’ feedback has encouraged me, as a single who usually travels with a group, to consider some independent trips. And the stories are very informative, with so many suggestions for exploring the world, making it fun and exciting to plan for the next trip, even considering countries that I have never previously considered.

“Thank you for offering all this info in one great magazine.”

Read through this issue, and if you find even one suggestion that may save you money, time or trouble on your next trip, or if you find some item interesting or just entertaining, turn to the subscription page (page 9) and peruse our guarantees. A year’s worth of issues costs only $2 a month. Consider the return on such a small investment.

True to the magazine’s name, we also provide travel-related news. I have the following items, to start.

 

The British newspaper The Telegraph printed a story on Aug. 20, 2015, warning that some people using Airbnb (www.airbnb.com) were victims of a scam by con artists that cost them a great deal of money, one person losing £900 (near $1,400).

The scam works like this. After selecting a room and using the website to pay the agreed-upon amount, the renter receives an email from the property owner’s account — via Airbnb’s email-forwarding service — telling the renter that the credit card payment did not go through and asking for the money to, instead, be wired directly to the owner.

An eager renter who wires the money without first verifying that his credit card transaction has not gone through will find out later that his first payment was, in fact, successfully processed and that the second, wired payment did not go to the property owner but to the scammer, with no way for the renter to retrieve his money. (Under normal circumstances, if a transaction does not go through, the renter is notified by Airbnb, not by the property owner.)

Because the email comes from the property owner’s Airbnb account, the renter has no reason to believe that he is communicating with anyone other than the owner. 

The scammer likely gets access to a property owner’s account through “phishing.” He sends emails posing as an employee of Airbnb and asks property owners to verify their accounts with personal information, including account passwords. Some owners (who aren’t paying close attention) respond to the requests, never suspecting that their accounts have been hacked.

The scammer then waits for someone to rent from one of those owners, at which point he logs into the owner’s account with the stolen password and sends the renter the email requesting the payment to be wired. 

Airbnb does not hold itself responsible for such scams and will not refund money lost due to one. On their website, Airbnb instructs renters to pay only online through its payment system, reminding renters twice in its help section (www.airbnb.com/help/article/241 and at www.airbnb.com/help/article/209). The company goes so far as to state in its Terms of Service (www.airbnb.com/terms) that it prohibits paying for rentals outside of the website.

If you are suspicious that a message sent through Airbnb is a scam, the company allows you to “flag” the message by clicking on the flag icon located in the message, or you can write to them at safety@airbnb.com.

 

Here’s a story that may interest many cruise lovers.

On July 23, 2015, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and Carnival Corporation announced an important agreement on a settlement regarding alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The settlement affects the ships of Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises and Holland America Line, the three lines owned by Carnival Corp. that have headquarters in the US. (Carnival Corp. also owns Cunard Line, Costa Cruises and P&O Cruises, among others.)

The DOJ began investigating Carnival Corp. after receiving numerous complaints from disabled passengers stating that the cruise lines failed to provide seating accessible to them in onboard restaurants and entertainment venues, did not maintain enough accessible cabins to meet reservation needs, had embarkation and disembarkation procedures that were difficult for people with disabilities (the mobility impaired, blind, etc.), and did not provide disabled guests the same opportunities as other passengers in regard to excursions, programs and services.

During the investigation, the DOJ found that Carnival Corp. was violating certain sections of Title III of the ADA. Before the investigation was completed, however, the company decided to settle with the DOJ without admitting to any violations.

According to the agreement, on 49 ships (42 in service and seven under construction), at least 3% of the cabins, across all classes, must be handicapped-accessible, and guests with disabilities will be able to reserve them specifically. 

In addition, Carnival Corp. employees and managers will be given specific ADA training. Also, an ADA officer will be aboard each ship to ensure ADA compliance and to assist guests with disabilities should their needs fail to be met.

The terms of the agreement call for Carnival Corp. to finish the training and the ship improvements within about one year of the settlement date. Thirteen other ships operated by the company may also fall under the terms of the agreement if they are still embarking and disembarking in US waters or those of its territories four years from the settlement date.

Carnival Corp. also is required to pay a $55,000 penalty to the US government and $350,000 to the guests who were determined to have been harmed by violations of the ADA.

The full terms of the settlement can be found at www.ada.gov/carnival/carnival_sa.html.

 

CORRECTIONS and a clarification:

• We printed in our September 2015 issue, on page 30, a hotel recommendation from Marilyn Hill: “Central to almost everything in Paris, including Notre-Dame on the Left Bank, just across the Seine, Hôtel Saint-Louis en l’Isle (75 rue Saint-Louis en l’Île, 75004 Paris, France; phone +33 [0] 1 46 34 04 80, www.saintlouisenlisle.com) is a delightful, well-run hotel.”

Actually, Notre Dame is located on Île de la Cité, an island located between the Left and Right banks of
the Seine and next to Île Saint-Louis, the island on which the hotel is located. We thank Everett Angell of Warrington, Pennsylvania, for pointing this out.

Also, Marilyn wrote to say that the room price she provided was incorrect. She and her daughter actually paid a total of 199 per night (not per person) plus a city tax of 3.30 per night.

She added, “I just checked the hotel’s website, and the price for our room category is now listed at 225 [near $253] for two, which is still a great price for such a well-located, boutique Paris hotel.”

• The Travel Brief “Carnival, MSC to Cuba” (Sept. ’15, pg. 4) reported that cruises to Havana, Cuba, from Miami with Carnival Cruise Lines had been approved by the US Department of the Treasury and also that the Swiss cruise line MSC Cruises had added Havana to the sailings of its MSC Opera

All of those cruises will, indeed, take place. However, Deanna Palic´ (known for having written ITN’s “Latin America” column in the past) informed us that she called MSC Cruises’ US office and was told that they cannot book Americans on cruises that have stops in Cuba.

 

It was in our October 2013 issue that we printed the letter “Ground Operator Stiffed, Travelers Stuck,” in which ITN subscriber Bruce Fink described what he and his wife and other tour members went through in Kenya and Tanzania when the ground operator personnel halted the safari vans at the side of the road and demanded to be paid the money that the managing US tour operator had promised them but never paid.

After several tense days, Mr. and Mrs. Fink coughed up several thousand dollars to continue their tour, as did several other tour members. Mr. Fink filed a claim with his credit card company and was reimbursed the $6,800 he and his wife had paid for their original tour with 2AFRIKA, but he hoped to collect more following an investigation that the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General opened on Kenneth Hieber, owner of 2AFRIKA.

I have been keeping in touch with Mr. Fink to learn how things turned out, and on May 20 he received the following email from the Assistant Prosecutor at a Special Investigations Unit in Jersey City:

“Mr. Hieber entered the Pre-Trial Intervention program in October 2014 with a condition of restitution to be paid. Mr. Hieber remains under the supervision of the Hudson County Probation Department… . It’s possible that some victims have received partial payments already and others have received nothing; however, all names of victims with addresses have been provided to Probation.

“I can report that Mr. Hieber had filed paperwork earlier this year for a temporary return of his passport, to which we objected, expressing our concern that he constitutes a flight risk based on his previous residence in South Africa. The judge agreed with our position and refused to order the return of his passport.”

On June 16, Mr. Fink emailed, “The Kenneth Hieber case has finally been resolved. I received a check from the Finance Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey for $31.43. No explanation included. I called the Probation department about the check and was told that it was my share of a settlement with Kenneth Hieber totaling $81,163, to be allocated among more than 20 claimants. As long as Kenneth continues to make regular monthly payments, he will not be arrested. 

“According to Probation, I am to receive a total of $3,937. At this rate, it will take approximately 10½ years.”

 

As one who has been handling travelers’ complaints about all kinds of travel-related businesses and services for almost four decades now, I feel I am qualified to pass along the following advice.

Before, during and after a trip, whenever you call a company to ask about anything related to your trip, keep notes. The number you called. The date and time you called. Who you spoke to and/or what position that person held. And who said what.

Keep receipts and paperwork long past your trip. If you end up lodging a complaint, you will get better results if you can provide evidence of what was promised to you.

Fortunately, these kinds of records are seldom needed. 

 

I’ll close with a note I’ve been meaning to share with you. It concerns the Feature Article “Keep On Traveling — Tips for the Mobility Impaired” by Kathryn Tisdale, which appeared way back in this year’s January issue.

George McAninch of Sunny Valley, Oregon, wrote, “It was my plan to discontinue traveling after suffering multiple back surgeries and loss of some use of both legs due to nerve damage. Then one day I opened my latest issue of International Travel News and read the article regarding a lady traveler using a scooter throughout a European trip. She gave me inspiration and the information I can use to get me back on the road!

“I thank Ms. Tisdale and ITN for saving my traveling life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Travelers writing for the benefit of other travelers. That’s what ITN is about.