Consumers Warned Of Cut-Rate Vacation Offers
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) _ Beware the postcard offering a three-day trip to Las Vegas for $75.
Such bargains, state officials say, are the latest enticement offered nationally by South Florida ″boiler room″ operators counting on a gullible public to let them turn a quick, easy and illegal profit.
The state has active investigations on 60 firms offering vacations, said Assistant Attorney General Eunice Baros. And in recent weeks, Postal Inspector Tom McClure said, 35 new South Florida clubs have come to his office’s attention.
Broward Assistant State Attorney Brian Cavanagh said his office has filed fraud charges against four corporations and six people offering bargain vacations.
A trickle of vacation complaints a few months ago has turned into a deluge, officials said.
″We’re inundated with consumer complaints from around the country,″ said Ms. Baros. ″We’re receiving several hundred a week.″
Out-of-state consumers who have responded to postcard offers charge they have lost money or not received trips.
For years, Fort Lauderdale-Miami areas have been a national center for boiler rooms, which rely on mailings and telephone solicitations to market investments and products.
The latest scheme comes in several forms.
Some companies operate as travel clubs, charging $49 to $999 for a long- term membership, then failing to come through with promised cheap vacations.
A variation is selling cut-rate travel vouchers but not honoring them. One covers round-trip flights and hotels in Las Vegas, Nev., for three days for $75. Fees and deposits are taken on vacation packages, but the buyers are offered endless excuses and delays making the trips impossible.
Another scheme offers 2-for-1 vacations that turn out to be at least as expensive as packages available at travel agencies.
The schemes are characterized by mass mailings, to destinations outside Florida, depicting cruise ships, beaches, gambling and tourist attractions.
Recipients who respond by telephone are asked for a credit card number, receive an information packet and are asked to send perhaps $100 for their first trip, McClure said.
They usually are asked to specify a date at least two months in advance. By that time, the travel club has already collected the membership fee.
″The problem generally so far is the inability to accommodate people on the trips,″ McClure said.
The suspect companies have time on their side because of the money they can generate before complaints come in.
The state has reacted by extracting agreements from more than 20 companies to stop violating state laws and by shutting down one company by court order.
The suspect companies often violate regulations on refunds, cancellations and full disclosure of costs and conditions people must meet to take the trips, Ms. Baros said.