ATLANTA -- As spring break and summer vacation planning season draws near, the Governor's Office of Consumer Protection has been receiving numerous complaints about vacation scams.
In the typical scenario, consumers receive a letter or postcard promising them free round-trip airline tickets in exchange for attending a sales presentation about travel club membership.
After attending the presentation, usually at a local hotel, consumers discover that they have to pay money in order to receive the "free" airline tickets. Consumers also claim that these travel companies employ high-pressure sales tactics and deceptive means to coerce them into buying travel memberships that generally cost several thousand dollars.
The company promises huge travel discounts as a benefit of membership, but consumers soon discover that these discounts are non-existent or equivalent to the rates consumers can get themselves on well-known Internet travel sites. When consumers try to cancel their memberships and receive refunds their requests are usually refused.
Consumers can avoid travel scams by remembering the following tips:
-- Be wary of incredible deals or free tickets, prizes or memberships. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Know that if you are promised a "free" prize, the company cannot legally charge you any fees in order to collect that prize.
-- If you are unfamiliar with the travel company, contact the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org to check its reputation and see whether there have been any complaints lodged against it. You should also confirm that the company is registered with the American Society of Travel Agents at www.asta.org.
-- Before agreeing to anything or giving out your credit card information, ask for detailed written information about the cost of the vacation, including all items and fees, as well as membership cost. Read the contract carefully. Ask about your right to cancel and get the cancellation policy in writing.
-- There are a number of well-known travel sites that provide discounted rates for airfare, hotels and rental cars, without requiring you to pay for membership. Do the math, and see if it is actually a better deal to plan and book trips yourself.
-- If you entered into the sales agreement at a place that is not the company's regular place of business, such as a hotel room, the three-day right of cancellation may apply. If it does, you are legally permitted to cancel the contract within 72 hours for a full refund. In addition, the company is required by law to inform you at the time of sale -- both verbally and in writing -- that you that you have the right to cancel the contract within 72 hours.
-- If you do decide to purchase a trip or travel membership through this kind of company, use your credit card to pay for it. This way, if you believe you were scammed, you can dispute the charges through your credit card company.