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Bargain Travel Deals Often More Of A Steal Than Consumers Think

October 20, 1995

MIAMI (AP) _ The vacation certificate mailed to consumers across the nation promising $14.80 plane tickets to anywhere in the country was a steal of a deal _ in more ways than they imagined.

``Why do people go for this stuff? I don’t know,″ Arthur Weiss, Texas assistant attorney general, said Thursday at an annual conference on travel ripoffs held by the American Society of Travel Agents.

From vacation certificates to sweepstakes telemarketing to bogus offers promising travel agent certification, travel scam artists are squeezing their way into more wallets than ever.

Weiss offered the recent $14.80 air fare scam as an example of how the most incredible travel deals are often just that _ incredible.

Travel scams are taking the American consumer for $20 billion a year, said Steve Loucks of the Alexandria, Va.-based American Society of Travel Agents.

People can be easily taken because the certificates often bear the logos of large hotel chains and airlines to seem legitimate, Weiss said. Also, some states, including Florida, do not require travel agents to be licensed.

A former telemarketer who took calls responding to mailed vacation certificates said he quit because he was tired of listening to angry customers who thought they were getting free air plane tickets but instead were being baited to spend more than $2,000.

``Most of the people didn’t know what they were getting. They weren’t told that they have to buy a package,″ said the Miami man, who spoke on condition that his name not be released. ``People just aren’t informed.″

Making the problem worse is scam artists are taking to the Internet to find new customers. The chaotic, ever-growing computer network of networks is impossible to police, experts at the conference said.

Florida is home to many of what the travel industry calls boiler room operations, which are the phone banks telemarketers use to target their victims, as well as the vacation certificate clubs that use the mail to fish for fraud victims, experts say.

Gloria Van Treese, bureau chief of the state Office of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said state levied $70,000 in fines against 66 companies for fraud last year. The mass-mailed vacation certificates were the biggest problem, she said.

However, Van Treese said some of the agency’s prevention and punitive measures are working.

Two years ago the agency received 5,000 consumer complaints. This year, there were 1,800 through the end of September.

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