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Travel Scam Watch: Travel Clubs exposed
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 Philly.com. 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.
"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 WalletPop.com 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