Two questions bring this to mind, one just today, Vayama - price quoted at booking was increased after ticket confirmation and one from a while ago Is Canadian Visa Expert a legitimate company or a scam?.

In the case of canadianvisaexpert, while it was generally agreed that their business was ... scammy ... a user account was created with that same name and posted an answer defending the company. While those who are intimately familiar with the process of obtaining and using visas would consider this business as (potentially) a waste of time and money, someone, perhaps older and less computer savvy might find them a godsend. They aren't an outright scam, taking money and returning nothing, they are just an expensive way to get someone else to do a portion of what you might not have the time, knowledge or inclination to do.

As far as Vayama goes, I feel for the OP, I really do. That being said, it would appear according to the fine print and terms of use, Vayama was well within their rights and rules to raise the price quoted before issuance of the tickets. Now we have a question which accuses them of being a scam and unethical. A tag was created with the company's name. If I understand what I have learned about SE, this means that any time someone does a Google search, for instance, on Vayama, they'll find this question as one of the top hits. If I saw this questions title, I would not hesitate to assume they are (scammy and unethical) and move on to the next company.

We, in this travel.se have a tremendous capability of hurting a business. Perhaps badly. Perhaps, even to the level of litigation by the company. Is that what we want? How do we determine, objectively, provably, if a company/website/individual is scammy/unethical?

More importantly, do we care?

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    If I understand what I have learned about SE, this means that any time someone does a Google search, for instance, on Vayama, they'll find this question as one of the top hits. - what on earth gives you this understanding? I created the tag either because other questions exist already or are likely to be asked in the future, or so it can be merged into another tag such as travel-agents or flight-search-engines. I don't know which service the provide so opted for a self-named tag. Oct 20 '14 at 6:01
  • @hippietrail Please see Lnafziger's answer in meta.aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/355/… I trusted him (has a diamond after all) to know what he is talking about.
    – CGCampbell
    Oct 20 '14 at 13:07
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    I don't see the jump from wanting to improve tagging to help search engines find stuff to they'll find this question as one of the top hits. You're trying to turn a positive into a negative. There is no magic that makes tagged questions shoot to the top of Google or other search engine hits, it's just one factor weighed up in PageRank and other ranking formulae. In short, always try to tag usefully. Never tag to game search engines or de-tag to attempt to hide from search engines. Oct 20 '14 at 13:16

One way to side-step the issue is to be careful with the terminology and avoid expressing opinions on what's right or not. Deciding if a given business is a “scam” or “well within its rights” because something is in the fine print is somewhat debatable/subjective. Describing what they did as objectively as possible should not be and would provide useful information.

In this particular case, it could look like this:

  • Question: Can this business quote a price for a flight and end up charging more on my credit card?
  • Answer: Yes, unfortunately it's in their terms and condtions and they are legally allowed to do it. This and that source suggest it's rare/extremely common (as the case may be…)

In practice, for this question some minor editing like removing “Unethical business” in the headline would solve the problem I think.

  • I agree with this solution - edit the titles to remove 'scammy' and more accurately reflect what occured.
    – Mark Mayo
    Oct 18 '14 at 3:45
  • Another solution would be to link to credible reviews of sites, services, and I think there are sites that even deal with "Is site X a scam or not?" that we could link to in answers. Though just yesterday I discovered there are also plenty of fake sites of that type! Oct 20 '14 at 6:09

I can speak reliably only for the case of visas for the developed Commonwealth and Schengen zone. It is riddled with scam operators. These are not necessarily based in Europe, but occur frequently in the less developed world as agents or lawyers providing visa services to the developed Commonwealth and Schengen zone.

Your question: how do we determine if a company/individual is operating a scam? In the case of the Canadian company that prompted this thread, it's easy enough to examine their site and see if they are registered with the Canadian regulator. For the developed Commonwealth, the US, and the Schengen zone, each sovereign has such a regulator. For the UK and Schengen zone, the company is required to publish their registration in their promotional material or they will get closed down and face sanctions which include criminal prosecution.

The corollary to your question: how NOT to do it is to conduct a trial by internet gossip relying upon personal anecdotes provided by random individuals. Random individuals include dissatisfied customers, vengeful employees, sock puppets, and the like yet all are given equal weight in a trial by internet gossip.

Unfortunately this approach doesn't work in Asia and Africa. Members of Parliament (and their counterparts from the EEA) when visiting foreign consulates are routinely shocked to see street vendors selling forged gas and electric bills, forged bank statements, forged house deeds, forged diplomas, and the like all for the purpose of evidence in applying for a visa. Moreover, in the case of the UK, an estimated 70% of all first-time visa applications originating in Asia are handled by an unlicensed (and unregulated) agent. It doesn't mean that 70% of applications will fail, some are competent and ethical, some not. Some applications get through on luck. Trying to identify or enumerate these operators is like playing whack-a-mole. You'll be playing a game that they can play better than you. The most fruitful action to take is to point the OP to the cognizant regulator in the host country if you think they have been scammed. If you can't do that, then leave a comment and move on.

I have seen two instances in the last week where it looked like that applicant was victimized. here and here One suggests forged or tampered documents which were unacceptable, and the other is indicated by advice given to the op which was palpably absurd. I commented on one and not the other because the answers had already attracted rep.

Having said all of that, questions which openly ask SO to confirm or deny if a given company is a scam should be sign posted to a regulator or marked as off-topic. The case in point being this one

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