Court Shuts Down Vacation Operation
Court Shuts Down Vacation Operation
May. 29, 1998
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A federal court has shut down a marketing and tour operation accused of luring in thousand of consumers with promises of discount luxury vacations and then bilking them out of hundreds of dollars each.
In an order unsealed Thursday, the U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh froze the assets of Commonwealth Marketing Group Inc. and Great Escape Vacations & Tours, both of Hopwood, Pa., and appointed a receiver to oversee them.
The court action followed a complaint by the Federal Trade Commission alleging that the businesses tricked consumers nationwide into giving their credit card numbers to a telemarketer, promising that in return they would get a vacation for free or at minimal expense.
But the vacation were far less luxurious than promised and the costs far more than what consumers were told, according to the commission.
``Thousands of consumers who thought they had 'qualified' for a discount vacation paid hundreds of dollars to collect. But they didn't get what they paid for,'' said Jodie Bernstein, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.
Curtis Sunderlin of Indianapolis said in an interview with The Associated Press he fell for the promotion after filling out a card for a prize drawing at a local nightclub late in 1997. A month later, Sunderlin said he received a call telling him he had won a vacation.
``Right then I got really excited, because I really had never won anything that big,'' said Sunderlin, 28. ``I was dumb enough to give them my credit card number over the phone.''
He then paid $598 for two people for a seven-day trip to Florida, including a cruise to the Bahamas. But when the brochures arrived, the so-called luxury resorts promised over the phone looked ``worse than a Melrose Place set-up,'' he said.
Better hotels with casinos and other amenities were available _ but upgrading required additional money, he said.
Sunderlin quickly decided the vacation was not for him and called the company within 10 days. A representative told him the company did not provide refunds. After pursuing the matter with the Better Business Bureau, he eventually got his money back.
A call to Great Escape Vacations & Tours seeking comment was switched among three people, including one who said he was a manager, but none would comment or give their names. There was no response to telephone calls made to Commonwealth Marketing Group.
The FTC alleges that victims of the operation were shuffled around in much the same manner.
After providing credit card information, they were transferred to another department, which told them they would have to pay hundred of dollars for ``port processing fees,'' the FTC told the court. Later, the consumers learned that the promised ``luxury cruise'' was a five-hour ferry ride to the Bahamas and back, the complaint says.
Patricia Mimms of Methuen, Mass., said she knew it was too good to be true when the company called her, promising a nine-day vacation with stops in Orlando, the Bahamas and Ft. Lauderdale, for only $598 for her and her husband. The company also said free trips to other locales would follow.
She asked several company representatives ``what do we have to do?'' suspecting that the package may require them to join a time-share.
``But they all kept saying the only thing you are required to do is enjoy yourself,'' Mimms said. After repeated calls, she discovered her suspicions were right: She and her husband would have to attend a time-share meeting as part of their ``vacation.''
The Mimms also asked for a refund and eventually got $498 returned.