Ten Ways to Avoid a Travel Scam
The postcard lay taunting me from atop the day's stack of mail. P.T. Barnum's words, "There's a sucker born every minute," rang in my ears. On the front side of the invitation a sleek aircraft zoomed into a cumulous cloud dotted blue sky. The name of a well-known airline, in no way connected to the offer, beckoned me to come fly the skies with them. On the back side these seductive words made promises I doubted they would keep:
The disclaimer on the bottom left couldn't be read without a magnifying glass. My telephone call for information was answered, "Reservation Department." The cheery representative wouldn't reveal the name of the company or the product they sold. He made it sound like he was offering a deal too good to be discussed on unsecured phone lines.
I hung up and said to my husband, "I've signed us up. We're going. I'm sure there will be refreshments, and there has to be a story in there somewhere." Some part of my brain recalled the old joke about two men sitting on stools in a posh Miami bar. The one guy says to the other, "My life changed that day. Turns out the wealthy Nigerian oil billionaire really did want to give me a hundred million." We all want something for nothing.
I was right about the refreshment part. We got coffee, tea and cookies, along with a smooth-talking, sincere-sounding salesman who could pitch a roach infested, scheduled-for-demolition dump like it was the Ritz Carlton. When the time came to sign up for a $10,000 vacation club that was guaranteed to save savvy travelers a fortune about half the dozen or so couples stayed. Bob and I extricated ourselves from the silken handcuffs with which the charlatans restrained us, insisted on our voucher for the free air fare as well as the one for the three day/two night stay, and made our escape without a backward glance.
Having obtained some basic information, I spent the next morning surfing the web for information and consumer opinions about the deal. There was no lack of outrage about the vacation club, the free airfare, or the hotel stay.
The Vacation Club:
I tried to be wary of a scam even researching XXXX XXXXX that offered me the free airline tickets for viewing the presentation. Unfortunately, I did not research the names of the several other companies involved . . .
This company is bogus. I've filed a complaint with the FL attorney general and with our US attorney general.
We contacted xxxx xxxxx to arrange air travel for a vacation and they were able to provide us flights but the cost was much higher than I could obtain on the internet via Expedia.com . . . Plus, the internet had better flexibility . . .
I purchased this travel club to eliminate my traveling problems, (which is what they promise). When I called for airfare, it was priced higher than right off the internet. They had no travel locations available when requested, yet the other travel agencies had plenty.
“Just say No”
These crooks take advantage of the fact that one cannot see the property when booking online. We booked and paid for 3 nights in advance but when we got there it was so dark, rundown, depressing . . .The manager did not refund our money and turned outright hostile.
I feel hesitant about the fact you don't know your hotel or destination BEFORE you send in the $50 deposit! They can put you anywhere! That's just shady to me. After hearing these comments, I'm keeping my money and planning my own vacation!
Free Airline Tickets:
After sending my $35.00 per person to XXXX XXXXX, I received a registration form. I was very careful to follow the terms and conditions of the promotional vacation to the letter, I completed my registration form and sent it certified mail to XXXX XXXXX Inc. prior to the deadline. Shortly thereafter, I received a letter stating that my registration form was void because I did not complete the registration form completely. When I called to inquire what was missing, they stated that I did not include my evening telephone number, only my daytime. I explained that it is my cell phone and works for both but I was told by Carole that the form was incomplete and void. When I asked for my money back, she said that I had to contact XXXX XXXXX because XXXX XXXXX does not have my money.
I have received multiple forms to submit for a vacation with air fare. After satisfying all requirements including paying requested fees each time I have received notice that the locations and times I requested are not available.
I am thrilled . . . that I've only lost $70 and about 2 hours.
The Free Hotel Stay:
. . . our "FREE" 2 night 3 day vacation . . . We were placed in a hotel in Daytona Beach . . . that was in the middle of a row of hotels that were boarded up.
There are tons of little details where XXXX XXXXX tries to catch you. I did all the paperwork correctly and they just didn't have any hotels available 45 days in advance for THREE locations. It also takes 15 minutes to wait on line for a surly CSR.
I contacted xxxx xxxxx for our Free Cancun vacation and they are booked for any of the times we presented the service rep. We had to PAY around $200 in taxes which means it's not free.
We sent in $29 for the free hotel stay and once the certificate arrived it had so many stipulations it was not even close to a benefit we could use.
This place looked like it was lifted from the Ghetto and placed on the beach. Homemade bed frames, mold in the shower, looked like vomit in the bottom of the trash can, just plain NASTY! We were offer a free upgrade when we arrived at the check in facility 6 miles from this dump, if we sat through a 1.5 hour time share presentation . . .
This place was terrible. The reviews of this place don’t do it justice. Imagine that there was a nuclear war and you are one of a few survivors in Tahoe. You need a place to stay, see the xxxxx go inside and decide it would be better to sleep on the ground under a tree as the rooms are so dirty and dingy sleeping on actual dirt would be better. The pictures they post are not as the rooms appear (at least the one we stayed in). And trust me, I would have slept in my car if it wasn’t 10 degrees outside.
This hotel is a RUN DOWN bug infested, bear inhabiting, POS!!! The hotel staff is soo disrepectful and rude! They have no idea what customer service is! My husband and I checked in at 3:05 PM & checked out at 3:15 PM the same day . . . no way we could stay in that disgusting, repulsive, excuse for a hotel!
“Rundown hotel run by crooks”
This has to be the very worst hotel I have ever stayed in . . . we opened the door to the room, bugs scattered everywhere. The gentleman brought Raid and liberally sprayed the entire room, then he brought a vacuum to suck them up. The carpet was filthy, bugs were coming in under the door and through the radiator grid. The window was broken and fixed with a plastic shopping bag. The outlets were held together with duck-tape . . .The place should be condemned.
Liked — Nothing
Disliked — Everything
Liked — That I did not book more than one night
Disliked — Room was dirty, motel rundown.
. . . I had the misfortune of kicking a flip flop under the bed. Not only did I see my flip flop down there I saw a number of other items including used tissues, an item of underclothing and an empty bottle of booze.
There were enough comments and reviews to provide me with a day's amusement. I chuckled over the dark humor, but if I had been the one scammed the situations would have undoubtedly been less funny.
Most scams are easy to detect if you follow ten simple rules:
1. Never trust a company that won't give you their name up front.
2. Be leery of any deal where the representative won't tell you what you are buying until you attend a seminar.
3. Legitimate deals don't need to be purchased within the next five minutes. Ask if you can think it over and get back to them. If they sound offended or flat out refuse, run.
4. Would you be embarrassed to admit to your friends or children that you were going to invest in this?
5. Do your research. The internet lets you see what others have to say about the offer. Call your local Better Business Bureau and ask if they've had complaints. Learn from the mistakes others have already made.
6. Call the Attorney General's Consumer Fraud Division in the state where the company is headquartered to see if they're under investigation.
7. All states have Buyer's Remorse Laws. These laws provide a cooling off period for many unsolicited purchases (they came to you, you didn't go looking to buy their product/service). Ask about the cancellation period.
8. Compare. Does it sound like a Nigerian e-mail scam, pyramid scam or other shady deal you've heard about?
9. Don't provide sensitive information (a copy of your driver's license or your mother's maiden name).
10. And the most important rule of any deal: If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
Most of us would like to lose a pound a day while eating everything we crave. Most of us want to earn $18,000 a month working an hour a day from home. Most of us want to look twenty years younger overnight without surgery. And we'd all like to find that Nigerian oilman who really wants to give away money. An interesting thing about fraud, you have to be a willing participant.
Julie Albrecht Royce, Travel Adventures Editor, is the author of Traveling Michigan's Sunset Coast and Traveling Michigan's Thumb, both published by Thunder Bay Press. She writes a monthly column for Wandering Educators.