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Travel and You

Scams, Bargains, Rip-Offs--Let Buyers Beware

November 16, 1986|TONI TAYLOR | Taylor, an authority on the travel industry, lives in Los Angeles.

Most people can't resist a bargain. That's only human nature.

But a lot of people also don't distinguish well between genuine bargains and rip-offs. In their eagerness to take advantage of what's presented to them as a good deal, they become just plain gullible.

Alas, another aspect of human nature is that there are always people out there who know how to capitalize on that weakness, by foul means or fair. Sometimes, barely fair.

How many times have you been told on the outside of an envelope that you have won either the Taj Mahal or $10 million or a fleet of Maseratis . . . or one of 10,000 consolation prizes, which turn out to be a $3 "uncut gem" or a plastic hairbrush. Some consolation.

Reading the Fine Print

No purchase is necessary to qualify for the draw, according to the fine print. The operators of the program are betting that you won't read that, or that you'll feel that your chances of winning the big one are better if you do agree to buy the cookware or subscribe to the magazine or join the record club. In other words, pay for whatever product or service the sender is peddling.

In most cases it's not illegal, but it certainly depends for its success on the gullibility of the public.

There is in gullibility a strong element of greed. Some people can hardly wait to part with their money, but if they'd just stop and think for a moment, they'd begin to question the proposition that's been put to them.

Over the years I've observed a number of characters and programs in the travel business whose sole reason for being was to cash in on our vulnerability. But I can never remember a period in which the public was taking such a beating as it is right now.

Some of the devices being used are within the law, others clearly outside it. The only thing they have in common is that they look as if they're offering something extra, when maybe they aren't.

An Amazing Price

Recently, readers in the Midwest were overjoyed to find, in large-type newspaper ads, that they could fly round trip to Hawaii for the amazing price of $31. It was amazing, all right.

The catch was that the air fare was only good if you bought a package of hotel accommodations costing $800.

OK, you say, so nobody was forced to buy the trip once they realized the hidden costs. True. But do you know how susceptible people are when they've talked themselves into believing Hawaii is in their future, how embarrassed some folks are to tell a salesman that they really can't afford it after all, or how easy it is for a fast-talking salesman to convince a prospective customer that he or she really can't live without an $800 hotel package?

An awful lot of those Sunday travel section readers in Chicago and other towns ended up with vacations that they never would have dreamed of buying had all of the financial facts been laid out for them at the outset.

The moral? Don't be talked into anything you can't afford and didn't want in the first place until a catchy headline caught your eye, a headline that didn't tell the full story at that.

The Illinois attorney general got into that act and got the advertiser to cease and desist. But no legal action was taken against the company beyond that.

An Old Scam

Recently there has been an outbreak in Florida and here in California of an old scam that never seems to fail. It's the one in which somebody calls your home offering you a seemingly value-packed and reasonably priced vacation with a lot of extras thrown in. There are vouchers good for meals at the destination's best restaurants, maybe a piece of luggage is promised, lots of goodies to sweeten the pot.

It sounds great. But it's only available if you give the caller a credit card number to which the trip can be charged. Not tomorrow, not next week, but right now.

Documentation is promised in six to eight weeks. The bill arrives within the month.

Before the "buyer" (read, "sucker") becomes seriously concerned about the non-appearance of the travel documents, the scam operator has folded his tent and gone on to victimize the next state.

Don't give out your credit card number over the telephone unless you're absolutely certain of the stability and integrity of the company you're dealing with.

I recently met a man who joined a travel club apparently based in the Southeast that promised to save him 40% to 65% on all of his air fares and car rentals, hotels and cruises. All of them!

He happily mailed off a check for $56 as his annual membership fee. Welcome to the club, pal.

Warning Bells

The address to which he, along with presumably several thousand others, sent his payment was a box number, which should have been enough to start the warning bells ringing in his head, but wasn't.

It turned out that the P.O. box was in a dingy, commercial mail drop office that had been rented for three months and which was no longer in use by the time the police got involved.

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