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Steering Clear of Scams

The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) recently held a conference to address what they termed “The Scam of the 90s"--travel fraud. Representatives from government, law enforcement, airlines, cruises and district attorneys discussed the growing problem of phony travel companies and other scams that cost travelers millions of dollars each year. A large number of the victims are senior citizens who constitute a large share of the travel market.

ASTA and the Assn. of Retail Travel Agents (ARTA) adhere to a code of conduct. ASTA’s recommendations are:

* Be extremely skeptical about postcard and phone solicitations that say that you’ve been selected to receive a fabulous vacation.

* Never give out a credit card number unless you initiate the transaction and are confident about the company with which you are doing business.

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* You should receive complete details in writing about any trip prior to payment. These details should include the total price, cancellation and change penalties, and specific information on all components of the package.

* Be wary of calling telephone numbers with a 900 prefix in response to a travel solicitation. Charges for any 900 phone calls are billed to you and are a favorite scam of illicit operators.

* Walk away from high-pressure sales presentations that don’t allow you time to evaluate, or that require you to disclose your income.

* Be suspicious of companies that require you to wait at least 60 days to take your trip.

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* If you are suspicious of any travel offer, check it out with an ASTA or ARTA member travel agent.

* Be suspicious of offers that include “all major hotels” or “all major airlines.” Insist on getting the names of the hotels and airlines involved in any promotion.

ASTA offers a free brochure titled “Avoiding Travel Problems.” Send a long self-addressed stamped envelope to ASTA, Attn: Fulfillment, 1101 King St., Alexandria, Va. 22314.

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Time-share sales are another potential for scams, according to the Resort Property Owners Assn. Time shares are the purchase or lease of condominiums in which you may vacation for two or more weeks each year.

RPOA reports that in Hawaii, especially, tourists are approached by vendors who offer free tickets to luaus, sailing cruises, auto rentals and other incentives. Time-share agents abound in Lahaina, Maui and Honolulu, but are also found in vacation destinations throughout the mainland U.S. Not all time-share vendors are dishonest, but seniors are advised to be cautious when approached with presentations.

The RPOA’s advice is:

* If the offer suggests that you bypass booking through a travel agent, decline it.

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* If you feel you are being pressured, decline the offer.

* If the vendor offers to send a courier for your check, or asks for a certified check, a direct bank deposit or a credit card number, decline the offer.

* If a resort tour is a stipulation for receiving a rental car, fishing trip or other incentive, decline.

For a report on time-share scams, send a long self-addressed stamped envelope to: RPOA, 950 Skokie Blvd., Suite 304, Northbrook, Ill. 60062.

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For informative brochures published by the National Tour Assn. relating to safety in travel, call (800) 755-8687.

There are three brochures available at no charge from the National Fraud Information Center. Call (800) 876-7060 and ask for these brochures: “Schemes, Scams and Flimflams, a Consumers Guide to Phone Fraud,” “Telephone Scams and Older Consumers” and “Telemarketing Travel Fraud.”


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