Florida AG Warns: Be Wary of Scams, Fraud Associated with Vacation Packages and Other Travel

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TALLAHASSEE, FL - With Spring Break here and families planning for summer vacations, Attorney General Bill McCollum today issued a consumer advisory cautioning Florida residents and guests to be wary of the various scams and fraud which could be associated with vacation packages and other travel-related services. The Attorney General encouraged consumers to report travel-related fraud to his office, particularly issues related to improperly disclosed surcharges, misleading advertisements or problems associated with timeshares. Complaints about travel-related issues ranked third last year among the categories of complaints reported to the Attorney General's Office.

"Florida is well-known for its allure to travelers, from both within the state and other locations, and we must protect not only our citizens and our guests but also our reputation as an attractive destination," said Attorney General McCollum.

The Attorney General's Office announced settlements earlier this week with two cruise lines over the imposition of a fuel supplement on cruise passengers. Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and Celebrity Cruises agreed to refund $21 million to consumers nationwide who were charged the fuel surcharge after they had booked their cruise. The Attorney General commended the two cruise lines for their willingness to take actions to resolve this matter in their customers' best interest. The settlements will serve as a model for the rest of the cruise line industry and the Attorney General expressed his expectation that the other companies would follow suit.

Other common travel-related problems are associated with vacation timeshares, which give consumers the right to use a vacation home for a limited, pre-planned period. Timeshare scams occur both at the time of the original purchase and at the point of resale. Victims of unscrupulous timeshare sales companies are often contacted either over the phone or are mailed a postcard asking the victim to call a toll-free phone number. Before consumers decide to either purchase or resell a timeshare, the Attorney General advised them to consider the following tips:

- Be wary of the hard sales pitch - When it comes to purchasing a new timeshare, the salesperson may give the impression that the papers have to be signed that same day. Consumers should remember that they always have the right to leave the sales office and come back later.

- Consumers should always read their contracts to determine what cancellation rights they have after the papers are signed. Before buying a timeshare, consumers should consider whether they will want to return to the same vacation spot each year.

- Be wary of too-good-to-be-true claims when it comes to resales - The company's salespeople are likely to claim that the market in the area where the resort is located is "hot" and that they are being overwhelmed with buyer requests for that resort. In some cases, the salespeople may even claim they have a buyer waiting in the wings who wants to buy the timeshare. Consumers should be skeptical of these types of claims.
- Question up-front fees - Most resale companies require consumers to pay a $300-500 advance listing fee before the sale of the timeshare can take place. In a typical real estate transaction, the fee is paid from the proceeds of the sale at the time of the sale. Consumers should also find out if the salespeople are licensed real estate brokers and should contact the licensing agency in the state where the company is located to determine if their license is valid, and whether there are any complaints lodged against the broker.

- Consider other options when it comes to resale - Consumers may want to try selling their timeshares "by owner" by placing advertisements in a newsletter or magazine read by potential timeshare buyers. A licensed real estate broker in the area where the resort is located may be another option. Some companies also offer contracts which allow consumers to exchange their timeshares for units in different areas.

The Attorney General encourages Florida consumers who wish to report fraud or scams to contact the Attorney General's fraud hotline at 1-866-966-7226 or to file a complaint online HERE


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