Consumer IQ

Reader Q&A: Is This Vacation Club a Scam?

Relaxing on remote beach.

Question: We recently attended a presentation for a vacation club, but we’re having a problem with it now and we need your advice.

At the end of the session we were promised two free airline flights and a free car rental anywhere in the US. Obviously, the travel dates were very restrictive and we sent in a $115 refundable deposit.

Eventually, we had to fax the company our credit card number in exchange for the promise of two free flights and the free car rental. We were told our flights were unobtainable, since the travel company could not get any available dates from the airlines.

Bottom line: there were no free flights or car rental, we have paid $115, gave out our personal credit card number and have been told “your certificate expired and we could not get the flights you requested.”

What should we do? -— Dennis R., Kirtland, Ohio

Answer: You’ve been scammed — in a big way.

The vacation club con is one of the oldest in the book. They try to lure unsuspecting victims in by promising them free airline tickets, which never end up being “free” — there’s usually a transaction fee of some kind to secure the tickets. They also promise you discounted travel in exchange for a club membership of hundreds, or thousands, of dollars.

Too Good to Be True

You don’t really need me to figure this one out. Think about it. When was the last time any business offered you a “free” airline ticket or rental car, with no strings attached? It just doesn’t happen with a legitimate business.

If ever there was an offer that was too good to be true, this was it. Your scam-o-meter should have been flashing.

I’m not surprised (and you shouldn’t be, either) that the club wouldn’t honor your request. I did a little research and discovered the company that ensnared you only forks over a refund when backed into a corner by the Better Business Bureau or law enforcement. But usually, the company just keeps your money.

The Expert’s Advice

Don’t attend any presentations for vacation clubs ever again. Remember, there’s no such thing as a free ticket. Also, consider the money you lost to be a small price to pay. Others lose thousands — sometimes tens of thousands — before they realize they’ve been duped.

As for the $115 you lost, it is retrievable, but it would take way too much of your time to be worth the money. You’re probably better off going online and reviewing this club and warning everyone to stay away.

I’d also recommend reporting this to your local authorities, although my experience is that parasites like this disappear, cross state lines and then reappear under a different name. They’re hard to kill.

Do you have a question for MintLife columnist and consumer advocate, Christopher Elliott? Head over to the Mint.com Facebook page and ask away!

Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.