Travel fraud is on the rise and recently the Federal Trade Commission and 12
state Attorneys General announced "Operation Trip Up," a joint federal-
state-local crackdown and consumer education campaign on travel fraud. 36
cases have been filed as a part of "Trip Up" against everything from
vacation certificate telemarketers and timeshare resellers, to emerging
variations of travel fraud involving flights pitched to immigrants, and a
new type of scam called a travel agent "credential mill."
In one "credential mill" case, the Federal Trade Commission alleged that
World Class Network, Inc., World Class Travel, L.L.C., and their owners and
officers, offered for sale a "travel tutorial kit." This kit supposedly
taught consumers how to run travel agencies out of their homes and provided
them with a travel agent ID that guaranteed them discounted rates on their
own travel. According to the FTC complaint, the ID is not recognized by
most of the travel industry and cannot guarantee discounts for its holder,
and few if any purchasers of the kit ever achieved the earnings promised in
the defendant's promotional materials. Consumers think they are getting
valuable discounts and a home business, but they're not.
In addition to cases involving new scams, actions were brought against
companies charged with engaging in familiar deceptive practices. According
to the FTC, some companies sold vacation certificates that didn't actually
entitle the bearer to a vacation. Others convinced consumers to pay them
money for assistance in selling timeshares, for which there is virtually no
secondary market. The FTC press release contains specific information about
the five "Trip Up" suits it has filed. In all of the cases, the FTC is
seeking a permanent order forcing the defendants to pay consumer refunds and
prohibiting the defendants from engaging in similar activities again.
"Consumer complaints about travel [fraud] consistently rank among the top
five categories in the FTC-Attorney General complaint system, and annual
losses to travel-related fraud are estimated to exceed $12 billion," said
Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Our
most universal advice: Buy vacation travel only from a business you know,
get the details of your vacation and any refund policy in writing before you
pay, and be wary of pre-paying for multiple years worth of travel."
The FTC's new consumer education effort includes several tips, including:
Buy from a business you know. Deal with members of a professional
association, or get an unfamiliar company's complete name, address and
local phone number. Be wary when the seller's name differs from the
travel provider's name, because you may be dealing with a telemarketer
who has no further responsibility to you after the sale. Firms that
send couriers for your payment may be trying to avoid detection and
charges of mail or wire fraud.
Verify the details of all arrangements and any cancellation policy
before you pay.
Don't deal with telemarketers who claim they need your checking or
credit card account information for identification or verification.
They don't. Your account number should be used only to bill you for
goods and services.
Multiple year memberships in vacation accommodations may come with
increasing fees or, if the fees are guaranteed to stay the same, the
property might become run down. Resales are difficult if not
impossible because there is no secondary market and timeshares rarely
appreciate in value.
Companies that offer to sell instant travel agent credentials have no
control over the decisions of cruise lines, hotels, car rental firms,
and airlines to extend professional courtesies to travel agents. Be
wary of their promises for guaranteed discounts.
Learn the vocabulary of travel. "You have been specially selected to
receive our SPECTACULAR LUXURY DREAM VACATION offer" means that you'll
be offered an opportunity to pay for a trip that may - or may - not fit
your idea of luxury. "Subject to availability" means you may not get
to travel when you want. "Blackout periods" are blocks of dates when
no discount travel is available.
You can find more information on how to spot and protect yourself against
travel fraud in the FTC travel fraud brochures.
If you have a question or would like to report an incident, please call
NCL's National Fraud Information Center at 1-800-876-7060 or use one of our
Log on the WebSite at http://www.fraud.org, or call 1-800-876-7060.
If you spot obviously illegal operations on the E-Ways, please
forward copies of the messages to NFIC at frau...@psinet.com.
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