Vacation Certificate Scams
Jul 11, 2000
Four years ago, I was made victim of a travel certificate scam. It's only been recently that we were able to resolve this issue once and for all. As there are lessons to be learned, I thought I'd share with you my "all to common" scenario and how I went about finally "winning" my case.
I attended a timeshare presentation four years ago and was awarded cruise and hotel certificates as gifts. The cruise certificate was for a three night Carnival cruise aboard the Holiday (out of California), that required us to pay only the port charges and the hotel certificates (2 of them) were for two nights accommodation each in Napa Valley and Lake Tahoe, responsible only for the taxes. As we were in the market for vacation property (and still are) and not sure what timeshare was about, we accepted the invitation to tour a resort in Lake Tahoe. We attended a lengthy presentation after which, we received the certificates as parting gifts. My husband and I made the decision that the timeshare concept was not for us. A few weeks later, I followed the directions on the certificates, sent in my "non-refundable deposits" of $100 for the cruise certificate, and $25 each for the hotel certificates, picked three dates 60 days apart and waited for confirmation. You can take an educated guess as to what happened next.
I waited nearly a year and a half before I contacted the company, by phone, that issued the certificates. When I began to get the "run-around," I requested a refund in writing. What I did next took a year and a half, but I succeeded in receiving my free cruise and hotel stays in Napa Valley and Lake Tahoe. I was persistent and because I contacted the right people, I ultimately got our vacation package. I nearly gave up many times. But my anger towards the company that ripped me off motivated me to fight. If you've been made victim of a scam (or suspect that you have), I recommend that you not only contact the issuer, but also go back to the people who awarded you the certificate in the first place.
The timeshare developer, in my case, received many phone calls and three letters from me, informing them of the problem I was having with the certificates. I went on to explain that the company in Florida was not responding to my letters or phone calls. I asked that they contact the certificate people for me and help me obtain a refund of my deposit. When they became un-cooperative and rude, I decided to write letters and file a claim with the DA in my local area as well as that of company that issued the certificates (in my case Florida). It was the Florida DA's office that recommended I make a request to the timeshare developer for a refund or the cruise and hotel package.
I embarked on a letter writing campaign. I wrote letters to the Better Business Bureau in the city where the timeshare developers did business, to the city manager's office and local media. I contacted the Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau in the timeshare developers area and wrote a couple of letters to local newspapers. I also threatened to take the timeshare developer to small claims court. After several months of this, the day before I planned to file papers in court, I received word I would get my cruise and hotel packages from the timeshare developer.
The DA's office had no luck in securing me a refund, but were very helpful in telling me where to go next. Personally, I'm glad I settled for the cruise. I remained skeptical until I actually set foot on the ship. A secretary, who later quit, told me that the timeshare developer owners were sick of me and were afraid I would take them to small claims court(costing them more than an inexpensive cruise for two), so they gave in to my demand. In my instance, it paid to be persistent.
The lesson to be learned here is that those free cruises or three night holidays given away as gifts at timeshare presentations could be nothing more than the kind of certificates I speak of here; a scam. I'm sure some are legitimate, but many are not. Was my cruise worth four years of headaches? Frankly, no. I recommend avoiding timeshare presentations unless you are seriously interested in making a purchase. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! Good luck.