Booking a hotel room online is a great convenience - and sometimes a money-saving way to plan your business trip or vacation. Unfortunately, scammers have devised look-alike sites that will can steal your money and sensitive personal information rather than reserve your room, Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns.

Last year, more than 15 million hotel bookings occurred on bogus hotel booking websites, resulting in losses of $1.3 billion, the American Hotel & Lodging Association found in a recent survey. The association estimates that 6 percent of travelers who thought they were booking on a hotel site actually were using a fake site.

"So many travel bookings have moved online that consumers may forget to verify that they are on a legitimate site," said Michelle L. Corey, BBB president and CEO. "Looking for the hotel logo or clicking on an ad is not enough. It's easy for scammers to make a site look authentic and trick people into divulging sensitive information."

Some sites look like a hotel's own website and others are designed to look like a legitimate travel agency. The URL for the site may include the hotel's name and logo, and some even have a "call now" feature that connects consumers with a call center, where employees are trained to hide the fact that they aren't actually with the hotel chain.

Some travelers have shown up at a hotel only to find it has no record of their reservation and no rooms are available. Or they have a reservation, but the hotel has no record of their request for a non-smoking room or other preferences.

Other potential problems could include charges for undisclosed fees, rates that are higher than a hotel's advertised rates or no way to change or cancel a reservation.

BBB advises consumers to go on a hotel's own site directly or use a reputable booking site. Check the site's BBB Business Review to determine whether it has complaints and if so, how they've been resolved. If you see an online ad or an email offering a bargain rate, make sure that you are connecting with the real hotel site or call the hotel chain directly.

BBB tips for travelers include:

• Do an online search and compare the URL of any booking site to the URL listed for the hotel chain or booking site in the online search. Consider going directly to the hotel or booking site rather than the one in an online ad or email offer.

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• Read any ads carefully, making sure you understand what is being offered and what the total price will be.

• If you are talking to a reservation center, ask where it is located and verify the contact information. If the agent is evasive, hang up and call the hotel directly.

• Ask for the name, address and phone number of the hotel where the room is located, and call the hotel to verify that the room actually exists.

• Before you enter any payment information, make sure the site is secure. The URL for the reservation page should begin with https://.

• Use a credit card to make your reservation. A credit card company can assist you with obtaining a refund if the offer turns out to be fraudulent or if there are other problems with the accommodation.

• Make sure you get a confirmation number from the business when reserving a room. Also, make sure you know times of check-in and check-out, and clearly understand the type of room you are paying for (smoking or nonsmoking, queen or double beds, regular room or suite, etc.)

• If you have any concern about the quality of a motel or hotel, ask to inspect your room before moving in. You have a better chance to get satisfaction from staff or management if you have not already accepted your room. If you spot a problem, report it to the front desk immediately.

Before you do business with a charity or company, check its BBB Business Review or BBB Charity Review at bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300.

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