You wanted a dream vacation, but your dream turned out to be a real nightmare! Has this happened to you?
The travel brochure urges you to cash in on the dream vacation package, but the scammer is the only one who gets the dream vacation. The Federal Trade Commission reports that in 2002, more than 3,600 consumers lost a combined total of $3.5 million in vacation scams.
You may have been sent a postcard saying that you have won a free vacation or one of many other lesser prizes. Generally, you have to call a number to claim your prize. When you do, they offer to send information about the vacation package in the mail after you provide your credit card number so they can assess a “small service charge” at the time you accept the vacation. Although you are assured that you will be able to cancel the package before you are charged, they charge your account right away. The review period will already have expired by the time you receive your packet, if you are even sent one. Meanwhile, hundreds of dollars in service fees will hit your account.
As a variation to this scheme, you are offered a vacation for an incredibly low price. To get this vacation, you must purchase a second round-trip airfare, which is much higher than it would have cost you to buy the ticket in advance through the airline or a travel agent; or your “free” vacation may not include transportation, lodging, meals, taxes, deposits, surcharges or other items not specifically mentioned. If you become ill or change plans, you could end up paying for a trip you never take.
Perhaps you were told you would receive a “free” vacation after you pay several hundred dollars to join a travel club. Yet, you might not ever get your vacation because you are told that the dates you pick are unavailable, or the certificate you are issued turns out to be counterfeit or useless. Without notification or a refund, the company offering the free vacation will close or move away.
How Georgia Law Protects You
The Georgia Fair Business Practices Act has specific provisions relating to the conduct of promotional contests, the disclosure of information to participants, and possible penalties or remedial actions if a violation occurs [O.C.G.A. Sections 10-1-393(b)(16)(A) through (P) and Sections 10-1-393(b)(22)(A) and (B)]. The following special provisions apply to vacation and holiday awards:
- The vacation or holiday must include all transportation, meals and lodging, unless the offer or notice specifically describes any of these items that are not included.
- If a deposit is required to secure a reservation, the offer or notice must disclose that information.
- You must not be required to pay any money other than a reservation deposit (no service, mailing or handling fees) in order to receive a prize, except the cost of traveling to the company’s place of business for a presentation or allowing one to be made in your home.
- The offer may not state that you are a winner, have been selected or approved, are involved in any special prize group, or are entering an event from which a winner will be selected, if in fact the intent is to reach prospective customers or the majority of entrants will receive the same prize or opportunity.
You Can Avoid Vacation Scams
- Do not give your credit card number to any person or business unless you expect to be charged for a product or service.
- Be wary of ads that have few details and promise a lot for little money.
- Be cautious of firms that ask you to pay before confirming reservations. Most reputable travel agents will confirm before payment.
- Deal with an established company. If the name or reputation is not familiar to you, check with relatives, friends or contact your local Better Business Bureau.
- If you are unfamiliar with the firm, request written information on the total cost of the vacation and all items included. Ask about your right to cancel and the availability of cancellation insurance.
- Be wary of vacation offers that are “good today only.”
- Remember, the better a vacation package sounds, the more thoroughly you need to verify the details.
If you feel you have been a victim of one of these scams, please get in touch with the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection.
You may also report your concerns to the Federal Trade Commission for their data collection purposes. Additionally, if you have received a fraudulent vacation offer in the mail, you should contact the Postal Inspection Service online or at this address:
Postal Inspection Service
P.O. Box 16489
Atlanta, Georgia 30321-0489