Travel scam watch: vacation club not what it promised

Travel ScamThis time its travelers from Tennessee claiming the use of misleading and high-pressure tactics to sell memberships in a travel club where members would be entitled to huge savings. Vacation Station is the latest company accused of running a travel scam by not delivering promised savings or service on what they said would be access to discounted vacations.

Tennessee residents have filed complaints about The Vacation Station which operated in a Tennessee office park until moving out last month. Those complaints, and hundreds of others filed in other states, accuse The Vacation Station of using misleading and high-pressure tactics to sell memberships for $2000 each.

“They had so much pressure on you it was almost like you couldn’t leave without doing it,” Kim Eldridge told newschannel5.com.

“It cut out the travel agent. It cut out all that other stuff. You were supposed to get trips really cheap,” explained Eldridge. The problem is that the trips offered by The Vacation Station were more expensive than they found elsewhere, sometimes much more expensive.

The Better Business Bureau of Middle Tennessee has received a total of seven similar complaints against the travel company.

“You’re really paying for something in advance that has little value when you try to apply it in the marketplace,” said Kathleen Calligan, President of the Better Business Bureau in Middle Tennessee.

The Vacation Station’s owner defended his company saying it quickly resolves consumer complaints even though most stem from the actions of third-party marketers reports the Tennessean.

“We probably dealt with 30,000 or 40,000 people in Nashville, and there’s only been six complaints,” Vacation Station owner Randy Gardner said. “I’ve done nothing wrong. If you’re in business, you get complaints. It’s gonna happen, but we always handle complaints.”

Maybe they do but paying attention to a few red flags when considering these sort of deals can go a long way to protecting consumers. Let’s take a look.

One sign that something is wrong with this deal goes back to that comment about how joining the club “cut out the travel agent”.

Travel Agents are not middle-men that cost consumers money.

Quite the contrary, a good travel agent on our side will eliminate the possibility of being scammed. Travel agents are paid a commission by cruise lines, hotels, travel and tour companies. That commission is not part of what consumers pay.

Our friends at Walletpop have 10 tips on how to avoid online scams from Undercover Tourist, a legitimate supplier of online discount tickets to Orlando, Florida-area attractions:

  1. Check if the vendor is an authorized dealer. Look for an authorized seller seal. Undercover Tourist has contracts with Disney and other companies in Central Florida to sell their tickets, Ford said.
  2. Research online. Do you find any feeback on the site, such as in online forums, blogs or groups?
  3. Check contact information. If there’s a telephone number, is the phone answered quickly by friendly staff who are helpful about the product? Is a physical address listed? Can you contact the company via e-mail, and if so, are your questions answered promptly?
  4. Press coverage. Is the Web site mentioned in magazines, newspapers on TV or guidebooks?
  5. What is the refund policy?
  6. Hidden fees — are there any?
  7. Shipping costs and speed. Are they clear and how long does delivery take?
  8. Web site design. Professional and organized? Easy to use?
  9. Security certificate and VeriSign logo or equivalent. Are the checkout pages secured with a padlock visible in the browser?
  10. Too good to be true. If the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is, or there’s a catch.

But this particular travel scam with the Vacation Station involved one-on-one high-pressure sales tactics which are a bit harder to get away from.

Internet scams we might have doubts about can be eliminated by closing a browser window and moving along to something else. When a professional scam artist is sitting right across the table, pushing all the right buttons and creating a fabulous opportunity, it can be harder to shut it all down.

Also called “boiler room scams” the Connecticut Department of Banking offers some good tips when dealing with high-pressure sales tactics

  • When hounded by high-pressure sales tactics on the telephone, simply hang up (or walk away).
  • Don’t be misled into believing that you’ve been “specially chosen” to receive the salesperson’s offer. Salespeople often call hundreds of prospects daily with automated phone technology, and they may use the same sales script to tell everyone that they’re getting a “special deal.”
  • Don’t be impressed by a salesperson’s title. The “senior vice president” on the telephone line may really be just a junior employee of the firm. Titles can be easily handed out to salespeople without any relationship to their actual work experience.
  • Don’t feel foolish for failing to act on a caller’s sales pitch. If the caller truly had a great investment prospect, would he or she be phoning strangers? Remember that salespeople make money through commissions on sales; if they don’t sell you anything, they may not earn anything.
  • Do not make an immediate decision. Get written information first about the firm, the salesperson and the investment. Ask the salesperson to provide any promises or claims in writing. Always feel free to seek independent advice about potential investments from a trusted professional (lawyer, accountant or broker).
  • Know your risk tolerance for a possible loss of your invested monies.
  • Avoid investments you do not understand. The greater your degree of ignorance, the greater the chance that you will be swindled. Be wary of investments in less seasoned companies, businesses that are long on promise and short on operating history.
  • Don’t give out your credit card number or other personal financial information over the phone to strangers.

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