Telemarketing Travel Fraud
Have you ever been tempted to buy a bargain-priced travel package
over the telephone? Be careful. You may get more than you bargained for. While some travel
opportunities sold over the phone or offered through the mail are legitimate, many are
scams that defraud consumers out of millions of dollars each month.
The scam starts when you receive a postcard or certificate that says: "Pack
your bags! This certifies that you'll receive a world class Caribbean vacation
offer for you and a friend."
The word "offer" often is a clue to hidden charges. The postcard or
certificate tells you to call a phone number usually toll-free for details
about the trip. When you call, you're given a sales pitch for a supposedly
luxurious trip one that you could pay dearly for.
The salesperson may ask for your credit card number to bill your account for the travel
package. Once you pay, you receive the "package," which usually includes
instructions for making trip reservation requests. Your request often must be accompanied
by yet another fee. In addition, many offers require you to pay port charges, hotel taxes,
and service fees.
See a pattern developing? New charges are being added every step of the way. You may
never get your "bargain" trip because your reservations may not be confirmed or
you must comply with hard-to-meet hidden or expensive "conditions."
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 pitches
- Oral Misrepresentations. Particular schemes vary, but all fraudulent
telemarketers promise you a "deal" they can't possibly deliver. Unfortunately,
you won't know it until your money's gone.
- High Pressure/Time Pressure Tactics. Scam operators often say they need
your commitment to buy immediately or that the offer won't be available much longer. They
typically brush aside questions or concerns with vague answers or assurances.
- "Affordable" Offers. Unlike fraudulent telemarketers who try to
persuade people to spend thousands of dollars on an investment scheme, fraudulent travel
telemarketers usually pitch club membership or vacation offers in a lower price range. The
offers sound reasonable and are designed to appeal to anyone who is looking for a
- Contradictory Follow-up Material. Some companies may agree to send you
written confirmation of your deal. However, it usually bears little resemblance to the
offer you accepted over the phone. The written materials often disclose additional terms,
conditions, and costs.
How To Protect Yourself
Unpleasant surprises can ruin a vacation, especially when they cost money. That's why
it pays to investigate a travel package before you buy. But it can be difficult to
tell a legitimate sales pitch from a fraudulent one. Consider these travelers' advisories:
- Be wary of "great deals" and low-priced offers. Few legitimate
businesses can afford to give away products and services of real value or substantially
undercut other companies prices.
- Don't be pressured into buying. A good offer today usually will be a good
offer tomorrow. Legitimate businesses don't expect you to make snap decisions.
- Ask detailed questions. Find out exactly what the price covers and what it
doesn't. Ask about additional charges. Get the names of the hotels, airports, airlines,
and restaurants included in your package. Consider contacting these businesses directly to
verify arrangements. Ask about cancellation policies and refunds. If the salesperson can't
give you detailed answers, walk away.
If you decide to buy, find out the name of the travel provider the company that
is getting your reservations and tickets. This company usually is not the telemarketer.
- Get all information in writing before you agree to buy. Once you receive
the written information, make sure it reflects what you were told over the phone and the
terms you agreed to.
- Don't give your credit card number or bank information over the phone unless you
know the company. One easy way for a scam operator to close a deal is to get your
credit card number and charge your account. Sometimes fraudulent telemarketers say they
need the number for verification purposes only. Don't believe them.
- Don't send money by messenger or overnight mail. Some scam artists may ask
you to send them a check or money order immediately. Others may offer to send a messenger
to pick up your payment. If you pay with cash or a check, rather than a credit card, you
lose your right to dispute fraudulent charges under the Fair Credit Billing Act.
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. If possible, do this
as soon as you receive your statement. If not, you have up to 60 days after the bill's
statement date to dispute the charge.
- Check out the company before you buy. Contact the organizations listed
below to see if any complaints have been lodged against the travel firm or the travel
provider. Be aware that fraudulent businesses often change their names to avoid detection.
- If in doubt, say "no." You may have doubts even if an
offer sounds legitimate. In that case, trust your instinct. It's much less risky to turn
down the offer and hang up the phone.
Where To Complain
Several organizations can provide additional information and help you with complaints.
- Your state Attorney General probably has a division that deals with consumer
- The American Society of Travel Agents, Consumer
Affairs, at 1101 King Street, Alexandria, Virginia 22314, may be able to mediate your
dispute with an ASTA member.
- The National Fraud Information Center (NFIC), a project of the National Consumers League, is a nonprofit organization that operates a
consumer hotline to provide services and help for consumers who may want to file
complaints. NFIC sends appropriate information to the Federal Trade Commission/National
Association of Attorneys General Fraud Database. Contact NFIC at 1-800-876-7060, 9 a.m. -
5:30 p.m. EST, Monday - Friday.
- The Federal Trade CommissionCorrespondence
Branch, Washington, D.C. 20580. Although the FTC cannot intervene in individual disputes,
the information you provide may indicate a pattern of possible law violations requiring
action by the Commission.
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