Daines, Fischer tackle online booking scams with new bipartisan legislation

Online hotel booking scams that trick customers into thinking that they’re making reservations directly with hotels would be targeted under legislation introduced by U.S. Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Deb Fischer (R-NE) on Wednesday.

The Stop Online Booking Scams Act would require third-party hotel reservation sellers to provide discloses if they’re not affiliated with a hotel before accepting payment from a customer. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) introduced a House version of the bill.

“Tourism is a key part of Montana’s economy and provides good-paying jobs,” Daines said. “Folks expect the reservations they made are there when they arrive. You should get what you pay for.”

Online booking sites allow consumers to shop for hotels across thousands of brands on a single platform. The increase in online booking, by some estimates as many as 480 bookings per minute, also has generated a rise in online booking scams.

The legislation would target websites that are designed to appear connected to hotel chains, tricking customers into paying additional fees, losing loyalty points or paying for reservations that were never made.

“Technology puts the world at our fingertips, but it also presents new challenges,” Fischer said. “Online booking scams are creating frustration for families across the country. Our bipartisan legislation would help protect people from these fraudulent sites and reduce stress for Americans.”

Under the bill, failure to comply would be considered an unfair or deceptive act under the Federal Trade Commission Act, and state attorneys general would have the authority to bring civil action against companies found to be in violation of the requirement.

“As a representative of one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, promoting travel and tourism is one of my core missions,” Ros-Lehtinen said, “however, the rise of fraudulent hotel booking websites and call centers are hurting travelers, local businesses and the American tourism industry.”

It’s imperative, Ros-Lehtinen added, that Congress address deceptive practices and do everything possible to eliminate perpetrators from taking advantage of consumers.

Daines and Fischer were joined by U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) in introducing the Senate bill. Ros-Lehtinen introduced the House bill with U.S. Reps. Lois Frankel (D-FL) and Peter Welch (D-VT).

Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, said, “Our guests expect and deserve transparency. Every minute we wait to pass this common sense legislation, more people fall victim to these deceptive practices.”