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For many of us, summertime is the season of vacations and travel. Unfortunately, the significant cost of travel also makes it a tempting arena for fraudsters. This is a good time to focus on travel-related schemes and scams designed to separate us from our hard-earned money.
Membership travel clubs continue to be a source of complaints -- and consumer loss. Typically consumers are invited to sales presentations through mailings or telephone calls, offering free airline tickets, hotel stays or other benefits. The presentations invariably are high-pressure attempts to persuade consumers that the discounts they will receive as a member of the club will justify the exorbitant price of joining, which often is thousands of dollars.
In reality, many consumers discover too late that the promised discounts are no better than what they could obtain on their own or through a traditional travel agent. My office recently took one such travel club operation to trial in Appleton, after which the court ordered those responsible to pay back the $3.8 million paid by Wisconsin consumers as well as more than one million dollars in forfeitures and costs.
Another area of ongoing problems is timeshare reselling. The difficulty of selling some timeshares can lead people to fall prey to fraudulent timeshare resellers. These scammers often pretend to have a buyer available, and demand up-front fees to sell your timeshare, which could be hundreds or thousands of dollars. In some cases, the money disappears, and so does the reseller.
My office will continue to pursue fraudulent travel-related schemes, but the best strategy is to avoid falling prey to the scammers. Be skeptical of offers of free trips or other prizes, which can turn out to be nonexistent or riddled with so many restrictions and hidden costs as to be useless, or of guarantees that your timeshare will be sold. Also, never sign a costly contract without first checking out the company, either through the government, or entities such as the Better Business Bureau, or other sources online. In addition, check whether timeshare resellers hold a real estate license authorizing them to engage in the business.
If you want to check on whether other consumers have filed complaints about an entity, or lodge your own complaint, you can call the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection at 800-422-7128. You also can file a complaint online at the following link: http://datcp.wi.gov/Consumer/Consumer_Complaints/