VANCOUVER -- Canadians are eager to get away and thieves are eager to take advantage of that. Online travel sites are playing on Canadians’ desires to book cheap airfare or a good deal on a cottage rental this summer.

“If someone is offering a vacation rental through social media and they are demanding you pay in cash or with a wire transfer, I wouldn't trust it," said Tony Anscombe, Chief security expert with ESET.

Online fraud has increased during the pandemic and a new survey by TransUnion found that in the digital world, financial services fraud increased 217 per cent and travel and leisure fraud increased by 49 per cent.

“The rate of attempted fraud is not just financial services; it is across different vectors," said Anne-Marie Kelly, spokesperson for TransUnion.

You could also land in trouble when you try to book what appears to be a deal on airfare, especially with an online travel company you have not dealt with before.

“We are getting reports on BBB Scam Tracker that consumers are stumbling into these fake websites,” said Karla Laird, senior manager for media and communications for the Better Business Bureau Mainland B.C.

Look-alike websites piggyback on legitimate company names. Even if they have a secure URL and list an actual physical address, it could be a fraud.

“Some of them will put contact information, even if it’s not legitimate, but just to give you that look and feel of legitimacy,” explained Laird.

McLaughlin on Your Side has exposed this ruse before by visiting Vancouver addresses listed by fraudulent websites. The businesses did not exist.

The bottom line: Know who you are dealing with, don’t communicate off the rental or booking platform, don’t pay with a wire or e-transfer and beware of high-pressure sales tactics to get you to pay now.

Once you have made a booking on a legitimate website and want to make changes, you should go back to the website to find the correct number to call.

Some consumers who have done a general online search for customer service numbers have landed on fake ones and ended up giving out personal information and handing over money for upgrades or changes they never get, giving their money to thieves.

With files from CTV’s Pat Foran