BBB is warning of a travel club scheme targeting the Billings, MT area but is likely to move to other cities in the northwest to claim more victims.
Here’s how it works: you receive a letter stating you’ve won two free airline tickets, and the sender claims to have tried to reach you multiple times. If you don’t respond immediately, your tickets will be forfeited. The letter has no business name or contact information other than a phone number.
Due to urgency of the letter, you call the phone number and reach ‘Travel Awards Divison.’ They sign you up for a seminar at a hotel in your city to talk about discount travel packages, hosted by ‘Vacation Smart International.’ You attend and find savings to be enticing, and they negotiate the prices down to make sure you hand over money on site.
What’s the problem? The issue lies with the dependability and transparency of the companies soliciting the product. Vacation Smart International (VSI), based in Torrance, CA is the one providing you paperwork, but the phone number on the letter reaches ‘Travel Awards Division’ in Phoenix, AZ. VSI has been in business since March of 2012. BBB could not find any business registrations for ‘Travel Awards Division’ or any of their other vague business names. A news outlet in Portland, OR also did a thorough investigation into this scheme in December 2012, finding a web of similar stories using different business names and shell companies.
Better Business Bureau in Phoenix has attempted to reach ‘Travel Awards Division’ but has not been able to locate and confirm the business address. According to their investigations, it appears Travel Awards Division is a middle man providing your information to other companies.
If you sign a contract and pay Vacation Smart International thousands of dollars to for a travel package, there’s little proof these companies will hold up their end of the bargain.
BBB encourages consumers to consider the following tips to avoid these types of travel schemes if they come to town:
Don’t take immediate action. Ignore the time-sensitive nature of letters claiming your ‘prize’ or airline tickets will be given up if you don’t respond immediately. If you didn’t enter to win any prizes, it’s likely a scam.
Be wary of companies who aren’t transparent. Legitimate businesses working from an actual office will be willing to provide contact information to prove their legitimacy. Websites, flyers, letters, or phone solicitations from a company giving you multiple business names, fake addresses, and no way to reach them directly is a major red flag. Double check contact information you are given to ensure truthfulness.
Learn FTC’s ‘Cooling Off Rule’. When making a purchase outside of a business location, like a hotel convention room, you have three days to cancel your contract with the business. The cancellation notice must be postmarked by midnight on the third day after entering into the contract.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you are interested in purchasing a product or service, research the company first. When solicited in a high-pressure situation, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the ‘deal.’ Trust your instincts and learn to say no.
If you receive a solicitation letter, please alert your BBB at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 509-455-4200.