AG Coakley Cautions Consumers to be Wary of Vacation Timeshare and Travel Club Scams
BOSTON – Responding to complaints received about scams selling travel packages and time share memberships, Attorney General Martha Coakley cautioned consumers to be wary of disreputable companies using illegal marketing and pressure sales techniques.
“While vacation and travel opportunities offered by phone, mail, or the Internet may be legitimate, many are scams, and we want to educate the public as much as possible to protect themselves,” AG Coakley said. “Consumers should always go by the golden rule that if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Timeshare sales and travel club membership sales are often initiated through the use of telephone or mail offers of “free” gifts or prizes of airline travel, cars, and vacation packages. While some of the gifts promised may be genuine, nearly all involve extensive fine print reflecting onerous terms and conditions that significantly diminish the gifts’ stated value.
In order to collect the prizes, consumers are usually required to attend a meeting at an office or a hotel conference room, where they are confronted with a high-pressure sales pitch to buy timeshares or travel club memberships for thousands of dollars. Consumers are often told the offers are good for one day only and pressured to sign up and pay a deposit immediately.
Consumers who sign up for timeshares often find the resorts to be much less luxurious than promised, and consumers who sign up for travel club memberships promising “wholesale” prices and deep discounts often find they can get the same or better deals online through major Internet travel sites. Dissatisfied customers often end up fighting for refunds to no avail, and the worst scammers often disappear without a trace, leaving the consumers without recourse.
So how can consumers avoid these scams? By being smart shoppers and being wary of deals that sound “too good to be true.”
Tips for consumers include:
- Calls or letters saying consumers have won “prizes” or “awards” for a contest that they never entered are usually ploys.
- Always read the fine print on all “prizes” and “gifts” to determine any costs associated with them. It is the consumer’s responsibility to pay for anything not specifically mentioned.
- Walk away from high pressure sales tactics including “one-day” or “one-time” offers. Reputable companies will never pressure customers to make immediate decisions, and will allow time to consider the terms of an offer.
- Call the Better Business Bureau, search internet sites for customer feedback, and call the Attorney General’s Office to determine if other consumers have filed complaints.
- Get the details of any offer in writing and review the terms before deciding to sign up or pay a deposit.
- Compare promised rates with travel agents, airlines or available internet-based services. Determine the company that is actually providing the goods or services being promised.
- Get the details behind vague promises that packages include stays at "five-star" resorts or sailing on “luxury” cruise ships.
- Find out all possible unexpected expenses including hotel costs, meals and transportation. What will the company do if hotel and other accommodations are completely booked?
- After determining that a business is reputable, use a credit card to purchase the trip. Credit card companies often provide some protection and can help consumers dispute charges.
In May, the owner of Fantasia Travel Group in Methuen and Only Way 2 Go Travel in Plymouth, was found in contempt of court and ordered to pay $310,000 in civil penalties and $430,000 into escrow until resolution of the AG’s lawsuit. The lawsuit filed by the Attorney General’s Office in July 2010 alleges Charles Robert Caliri engaged in a scheme to sell essentially worthless vacation club memberships.
For additional consumer tips or to file a complaint about vacation or travel service companies, consumers can log onto the Attorney General’s website or call the consumer hotline at (617) 727-8400.