East Hawaii News

Hawaii Joins FTC Crackdown on Travel-Related Scams

June 6, 2013, 6:24 PM HST
* Updated June 6, 6:25 PM
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Hawaii has joined with other states and the Federal Trade Commission to put the brakes on deceptive travel promotions.

The effort is aimed at unscrupulous travel promoters who trick consumers into purchasing deeply discounted or “free” vacation packages supposedly worth thousands of dollars.

However, state officials said oftentimes consumers are required to attend lengthy high-pressure sales presentations and often receive nothing of value after paying thousands of dollars in fees.

The move by the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs coincides with the announcement of 58 criminal prosecutions brought by U.S. attorneys nationwide and local law enforcement agencies.

There have also recently been 80 civil enforcement actions by the FTC and 28 states, as well as 24 enforcement actions carried out in eight other countries.

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Bruce Kim, executive director of the DCCA’s Office of Consumer Protection, advises consumers to look out for these warning signs:

  • You “won a free vacation,” but you have to pay some fees first.
  • The prize company wants your credit card number.
  • You receive a telephone call, text or email “out of the blue.” Before you do business with any company you do not know, call the attorney general and local consumer protection agencies in the company’s home state to check for complaints; then search online for consumer complaints.
  • They do not — or cannot — give you specifics.
  • You get pressure to sign up for a travel club for great deals on future vacations.
  • You get a robocall about it. Robocalls from companies are illegal if you have not given a company written permission to call you, even if you have not signed up for the national Do Not Call Registry.
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Kim advised potential customers to check about the company with the Better Business Bureau or the DCCA before signing anything to do with such promotions.

They should also ask to see the company’s written cancellation policy and ask a lot of questions, including that they put all their promises in writing before you agree to anything, Kim said.

The DCCA advises consumers to consider making travel arrangements through licensed travel agents which will provide more protection from scams. The agents earn their commissions through the business that consumers patronize, not the individual consumer.

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Anyone who has been a victim of deceptive sales practices can contact the DCCA’s Consumer Resource Center at 587-4272 and file a complaint.

Consumers can visit FTC.gov/travel to learn more about travel scams.

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