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Travel scammers sent packing in international sweep, AG Cooper says

Release date: 6/6/2013

North Carolina joins in multi-state, multi-national bust of travel scams

Raleigh: As the busy summer travel season gets underway, Attorney General Roy Cooper today joined with law enforcement and consumer protection officials from around the world to go after travel scammers, including one that operated in North Carolina.
 
The international sweep coordinated by the US Federal Trade Commission includes 190 actions taken by 28 states and eight other countries. Among the actions is a lawsuit filed by Cooper against East Coast Travel, A-2-Z Vacations, Millennium Travel and Promotions, Smart Travel & Incentives and their managers and operators.
 
“We’re joining with our consumer protection partners around the world to send travel scammers packing,” Cooper said. “Don’t let your enthusiasm for a good deal on a summer vacation lead you to fall for a travel scam.” 
 
As alleged in Cooper’s complaint filed as part of the sweep, North Carolina consumers received mailers from East Coast Travel that claimed the consumers had been selected to receive a cruise or two roundtrip airlines tickets. Consumers who responded were told they had to attend a travel presentation at a hotel in Durham or Chapel Hill or at a shopping center in Apex in order to claim their free trip. The presentation turned out to be a high-pressure sales pitch for a travel club, A-2-Z Vacations, that misrepresented the company’s credentials and partners and the amount that it could save consumers on travel expenses.
 
According to consumers who complained to Cooper’s Consumer Protection Division, people who joined A-2-Z and tried to take advantage of the promised discounts found that they could get better rates on their own than through the travel club. Consumers also complained that the vacation certificates for “free” travel they received for attending the sales presentation were almost impossible to redeem. The vacation certificates, provided by Millennium Travel and Smart Travel, included so many blackout dates that consumers were left with few dates to travel. Consumers were even required to pay a deposit on their supposedly free trip.
 
A total of 13 consumers complained to Cooper’s office about the scheme. Victims paid between $2,600 and $6,600 for the travel club membership, and most who contacted Cooper’s office have gotten their money back.
 
Cooper alleges that the scheme violated state laws on consumer protection and discount buying clubs. He’s asking the court to bar the defendants from ever operating a similar scheme in North Carolina again and seeking cancellation of all travel club contracts signed by North Carolinians and refunds for those consumers.
 
“A trip isn’t really free if you have to buy something to get it,” Cooper said. “Be skeptical of anyone who uses a so-called prize or gift to try to lure you into buying a travel club membership that probably won’t live up to your expectations.”
 
To help consumers avoid scams and get better deals on travel, Cooper’s office has created a special travel tips section at www.ncdoj.gov. The tips cover travel clubs and vacation offers as well as timeshares, time share resales, vacation rentals and more.
 
Cooper also issued an alert today that will go directly to thousands of North Carolina consumers, putting them on guard about travel scams and making them aware of the travel tips available at www.ncdoj.gov. In addition, Cooper will send out a column to newspapers across the state, warning that offers of free trips usually come with strings attached.
 
To check out a travel company or file a complaint against one, consumers can call1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free within state. Consumers can also file a complaint online at www.ncdoj.gov.



Media contact:  Noelle Talley (919) 716-6413