Who hasn’t been tempted to win a contest by answering a simple trivia question? If you’ve been “selected to receive a luxury vacation offer,” the Federal Trade Commission warns consumers to think twice about the true value of the supposed contest prizes before accepting any offers.
According to the FTC, “Trip Traps” are common scams that prey on the gullibility of consumers desperate for a getaway.
“ The vacation that you've won likely isn't free. And the bargain-priced travel package you're offered over the telephone or online may not fit your idea of luxury,” the FTC warns.
“The salesperson may ask for your credit card number to bill your account for the travel package. Once you pay, you receive the details of the package, which usually include instructions for making trip reservation requests,” the FTC says in their Telemarketing Travel Fraud Advisory. “Your request often must be accompanied by yet another fee. In addition, many offers require you to pay upgrade costs to receive the actual destinations, accommodations, cruises or dates you were promised. Some offers may require you to pay more for port charges, hotel taxes or service fees.”
A recent settlement was reached between the FTC, Florida Attorney General’s Office and a company that allegedly offered luxury vacation packages in exchange for consumers paying up to $400 in taxes and fees. Of course, those who paid the taxes and fees never actually received the vacation package.
The defendants were VGC Corporation of America, also doing business as All Dream(s) Vacations, All Dreams Travel, Five Star Vacations, 5 StarVacations, Total Tours, and Travel & Tours Corp.; All Dream Vacations Corp., also doing business as All Dreams Vacations; Violeta Gonzalez, also known as Violeta Rojas; Cesar A. Gonzalez; and Samir Jose Saer Rodriguez, also known as Samir Saer. They have been banned from selling vacation packages, collecting payments from customers who responded to their fraudulent offers, selling customers’ personal information, and ordered to pay more than $14 million.
The FTC offers the following advice on how to protect yourself from “Trip Traps”:
- 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 hotel, 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, hang up.
- 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 buy part of the package – the air fare or hotel stay – separately from the rest. If the deal is not what you expected, it may be difficult to get your money back for the part of the package you purchased.
- 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. 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.
- Check out the company before you buy. Contact the Attorney General in your state or where the company is located 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." Trust your instincts. It's less risky to turn down the offer and hang up the phone.
-Elise Rambaud Marrion @emarrion_cmn