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FTC spotlights travel scams

Government announces awareness
campaign, common flim-flams

March 13, 1997
Web posted at: 11:30 p.m. EST

From CNN Producer Brad Wright

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Federal Trade Commission on Thursday announced "Operation Trip-Up," a campaign to alert consumers to some widespread travel scams estimated to rip-off the American public by an estimated $12 billion a year.

Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection said the scams are becoming more and more sophisticated. While most of them employ time-tested methods, she said, there are some new permutations in travel fraud schemes. Bernstein said the FTC is seeing a growing number of cases where immigrants appear to be targeted.

Indian immigrant Aatif Aquil, who lives in the Detroit area, said he had to pay almost $3000 up front for a flight to India promised for last December by "Your Travels and Tours," which is now a defendant in a fraud case brought by the FTC. His plane tickets never came, and now he is seeking a refund.

"I haven't received a single dollar back as yet," Aquil said. "I keep calling. He had an 800 number ... but now it doesn't seem to work. He hardly returns my calls. Whenever I have to call him ... he says he will be returning my money, but God knows when."

From faux I.D.s to timeshares

The FTC is taking civil action against several other firms which it believes are fraudulent, including Design Travel, which is alleged to have employed telemarketing schemes to lure potential buyers.

New fraud schemes the FTC called attention to include "World Class Network" which offers a tutorial kit including a Travel Agent I.D. card which would allow purchasers to take advantage of discounts and upgrades which hotels, cruise ships and airlines offer to travel agents in order to solicit their business. But the travel industry doesn't recognize World Class Network, rendering the kit useless.

In another case, a firm promises to sell your vacation timeshare or campground membership for an agreed upon price in exchange for an up-front payment of between $200 and $4,000. But the FTC says there is virtually no market for timeshares and those who paid up front generally lost their money.

States participating in the operation and bringing cases of their own against allegedly fraudulent firms include California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.

Rules to go by

Bernstein urged travelers to use common sense when dealing with travel agencies and offered the following 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.
  • Be wary of pre-paying for multiple years worth of vacation travel or lodging.
  • Time shares, campground memberships and travel club memberships are expensive and never should be purchased as investments.


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