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Have you ever been tempted to buy one of those bargain-priced travel
packages sold over the telephone? Be careful. Your dream adventure
may be a misadventure if you fall victim to one of the travel scams
sold over the phone. While some of these travel opportunities are
legitimate, many of them are scam operations that are defrauding
consumers out of millions of dollars each month.
How The Scams Work
These schemes take many forms. Often, schemes involve vacation travel
packages. A consumer pays hundreds of dollars or more to receive a
travel package that includes round-trip air transportation for one
person and lodging for two people in Hawaii, London, or another
vacation place for a week. The catch? You must purchase a high-
priced, round-trip ticket for the second person from the fraudulent
travel operation or you must pay for costly accommodations in less-
than-ideal timeshares or resorts. You may end up paying more than
what it would cost if you purchased your own tickets in advance or
bought them through an airline or reputable travel agency.
Another scam starts by sending you a postcard stating:
"You have been specially selected to receive a free trip." The
postcard instructs you to call a phone number, usually toll-free, for
details about the trip. Once you call, you are given a sales pitch
for a supposedly luxurious trip that is not free at all. Sometimes, a
credit card number is requested so that your account can be billed
for the package. Only after you pay are you sent the vacation package
with instructions on requesting reservations for your trip. Usually,
your reservation request must be accompanied by yet another fee. The
catch here? New charges are being added at every step of the way.
And, you never get your "free" trip because your reservations are not
confirmed or you must comply with hard-to-meet hidden or expensive
Telemarketing travel scams usually originate out of "boiler rooms."
Skilled salespeople, often with years of experience selling dubious
products and services over the phone, pitch travel packages that may
sound legitimate, but often are not. These sales pitches usually
include some of the following techniques:
* Oral Misrepresentations. Whatever the particular scheme may be,
telephone salespeople are likely to promise you a "deal" they cannot
deliver. Unfortunately, you often do not realize this until after you
have paid your money.
* High Pressure/Time Pressure Tactics. These scam operators are
likely to tell you they need your commitment to buy right away or
that this special offer will not be available tomorrow. Often, they
will brush aside your questions with vague answers.
* "Affordable" Offers. Unlike telephone fraud operators who try to
persuade people to spend thousands of dollars on a particular
investment scheme, travel scam operators usually pitch their
membership or vacation offers in the range of hundreds of dollars.
Because this amount is often in the price range of those planning
vacations, offers may appear to be reasonably-priced.
* Contradictory Follow-up Material. Some firms may agree to send you
written confirmation of the deal. You will find, however, that the
literature bears little resemblance to the offer you accepted. Often,
the written materials will disclose additional terms, conditions, and
How To Protect Yourself
No one wants unpleasant surprises on a vacation.
Therefore, it pays to thoroughly investigate a travel package before
you commit to purchase. While it is sometimes difficult to tell a
legitimate sale pitch from a fraudulent one, there are some things
you can do to protect yourself.
* Be wary of "great deals." One tip-off to a scam is that the offer
is very low-priced. Few legitimate businesses can afford to give away
things of real value or to undercut substantially everyone else's
* Do not be pressured into buying -- NOW. Generally, a good offer
today will remain a good offer tomorrow. Legitimate businesses do
not expect you to make an instant decision.
* Ask detailed questions. Find out exactly what the price covers --
and does not cover. Ask if there will be any additional charges
later. Find out the names of the specific hotels, airports, airlines,
and restaurants that your package includes. You may wish to contact
these places yourself to double-check arrangements. Find out exact
dates and times. Ask about cancellation policies and refunds. If the
salesperson cannot give you detailed answers to these questions, this
is not the deal for you.
* Get all information in writing before you agree to buy. Before
purchasing a travel package, ask for detailed written information.
Once you receive the information, make sure the written material
confirms everything you were told by phone.
* Do not give your credit card number over the phone. One easy way
for a scam operator to close a deal is to get your credit card number
and then charge your account. Sometimes scam operators say they need
the number for verification purposes only. Never give your credit or
charge card numbers -- or any other personal information (such as
bank account numbers) -- to unsolicited telephone salespeople.
* Do not send money by messenger or overnight mail. Instead of
asking for your credit card number, some scam operators may ask you
to send a check or money order right away -- or offer to send a
messenger to pick these up. If you use money rather than a credit
card in the transaction, you lose your right to dispute fraudulent
charges under the Fair Credit Billing Act. (See following section,
"What To Do If You Have Problems.")
* Check out the company. Before buying any travel package, check
first with various government and private organizations to see if any
complaints have been lodged against the travel firm calling you. A
list of some of these organizations is included on page 5. Be aware
that fraudulent firms change their names frequently to avoid
* If in doubt, say "no." Sometimes an offer appears legitimate, but
you still have doubts. In that case, it is usually better to turn
down the offer and hang up the phone. Remember, if something goes
wrong, the likelihood of your receiving any money back is very slim.
What To Do If You Have Problems
If you have problems with a travel package, try resolving your
disputes first with the company that sold you the package. If you are
not satisfied, try contacting your local consumer protection agency,
Better Business Bureau, or state Attorney General. In addition, you
may want to write to the American Society of Travel Agents, Consumer
Affairs, at 1101 King Street, Alexandria, Virginia 22314, which may
be able to mediate your dispute. You also may contact the National
Fraud Information Center, 1-800-876-7060 (9:00a.m. - 5:30 p.m.. EST,
Monday - Friday). Or, write to the Federal Trade Commission, 6th
Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580.
Although the FTC generally does not intervene in individual consumer
disputes, the information you provide may indicate a pattern of
possible law violations requiring action by the Commission.
If you charged your trip to a credit card, you may dispute the
charges by writing to your credit card issuer at the address provided
for billing disputes. Try to do this as soon as you receive your
statement, but no later than 60 days after the bill's statement date.
In some circumstances under the Fair Credit Billing Act, your credit
card issuer may have to absorb the charges if the seller does not
resolve your dispute. If you did not authorize the charge, you are
not responsible for its payment.
For More Information
If you would like more information about travel issues, write to
ASTA, at the address above, for a list of its publications. In
addition, for single free copies of Timeshare Tips, Timeshare
Resales, or Fair Credit Billing contact: Public Reference, Federal
Trade Commission, Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222.
Facts for Consumers from the Federal Trade Commission in cooperation
with the American Society of Travel Agents
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