Travel Scam Watch: Travel Clubs exposed

Its a scam we read about and think “How could someone fall for this?”. Promises are made for fabulous vacations at an almost-unbelievably low price. As a savvy member of the club, those chosen to join will reap great savings traveling with other like-minded people. But in the end, nobody went anywhere except to the bank for a pile of money to give the next convicted felon produced by the travel scam industry.

Just this week Daryl Turner, a New Jersey travel club owner, was arrested on allegations that he stole more than $75,000 from people who thought they were buying exotic vacations through his Dreamworks Vacation Club reports This is right after a February civil agreement on the same company that included more than $2.2 million in restitution for more than 600 customers who bought packages dating back to 2008 through Dreamworks and other companies operated by Turner.

Though the various scams varied from company to company, they all operated in classic travel scam fashion appealing to ordinary people looking for a bargain. The Dreamworks Vacation Club operation is a great example of a scam that has been going on for years, customized to the day’s economy or the consumer market being targeted.

Sitting here reading this today, removed from the high-pressure sales environment, its not hard to see through the deal.

“Five days in London with round-trip air for $535” was one of the members-only deals available through the Dreamworks Vacation Club. That low price was made possible by a big up-front membership fee of up to $8995, steep but seemingly fair for a lifetime of savings.

How do we know if something is too good to be true?

1. Google them, for yourself or someone else– A quick Google search for Dreamworks Vacation Club got me a lot of hits. That would have been plenty of reason for most people to walk away. But these criminals often target groups of people who do not use the Internet all that much. Buyers from geographically low-income areas who may not have the technical knowledge to do a search or Seniors are prime targets.

2. Contact your state’s Attorney General’s office or Division of Consumer Affairs– Odds are you are not the first person being wooed by criminal scam artists. They often have a long track record of crimes that crosses state borders and involves multiple companies over a long period of time.

3. There should never be a rush to buy– Unless you’re on a disintegrating asteroid in outer space being offered a ride on the last rocket to safety, take your time. Our friends at have 10 Tips To Avoid Online Travel Scams worth a look that center around the notion “Don’t rush into ordering from us if you don’t have time,” and “Take your time. Most scams have time-sensitive ordering requirements.”

4. You got mail- While Internet-based scams are plentiful, many rely on U.S.Postal Service mail for the “hook” that gets prospective buyers interested. An official-looking certificate with a familiar travel company logo and color photos we may have seen elsewhere in print is often what opens the door to let these criminals into your life. Travel Scam crooks are not really all that concerned with copyright laws.

Just ask the guys at Dreamworks Vacation Club.

Flickr photo by B Rosen

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Travel scam watch: vacation club not what it promised

This 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

“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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