Consumer Report: Hawaiian vacation scam continues to claim local victims

Filed under: News |

Just two weeks ago the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado alerted the media to a Hawaiian vacation scam that all began with a newspaper advertisement. Now it appears that more and more consumers have fallen victim to this scam and collectively have lost more than $62,000 to the scam artists.

The company, Vacation Properties International, ran an ad in the August 29 edition of the Gazette offering a vacation of a lifetime, at a great price. The company, which claims to be located in Honolulu, offered a discounted trip to Hawaii for two, priced at about $1,400, including round-trip airfare, a seven night – eight-day stay and car rental.

Participants were told that to get this great deal they simply had to attend a 90 minute timeshare presentation. Consumers who contacted the company were persuaded to sign up for the trip and send the company a check for a 10 percent deposit on the trip.

Just weeks later they were contacted again with a “new policy” that required more money be put down on the trip and that the deposit had to be paid for by check only.

Local consumers have paid deposits on their trips with Vacation Properties International, totaling $1,000 – $2,000 each. To date the consumers have not received plane tickets or hotel confirmation for their trips. One consumer, who was to travel in October, never received his plane tickets and other confirmations in time to go on his trip. When contacted about these issues, the company explains that there have been problems with booking vacations and that they will refund all deposit money by mail.

Consumers have yet to receive those refunds. Consumers do receive complete itineraries of the flights they will be taking aboard United Airlines, traveling direct from Denver to Honolulu. However, when they contact United Airlines they find the airline has no record of their reservations.

Upon investigation, the BBB was unable to locate Vacation Properties International. The company advertises that they operate out of a location on Ala Moana Boulevard in Honolulu, yet the company directs all correspondence to an address in Oakland, Calif. Consumers receive correspondence from this company with a postmark of Reno, Nev. The BBB has checked with property management of the Hawaii address but the building has never had a tenant by the name of Vacation Properties International.

In addition, the company advertises that they are members of the Hawaii Timeshare Bureau and have been recognized by the Hawaii Trade Association, however the BBB has not been able to find any evidence that these organizations exist.

Upon further investigation, the BBB of Southern Colorado traced the checks cashed by Vacation Properties International to a bank in California. That bank is investigating the situation. To date, it has been determined that the company Vacation Properties International has cashed more than $62,000 in checks.

When responding to vacation or timeshare opportunities beware of the following red flags:

n Heavily Discounted Offers – if the offer is heavily discounted and sounds “too good to be true”, it probably is

n Policy Changes -Vacation Properties International informs consumers that its policies have changed and they no longer take credit cards for deposits. Remember when using a credit card you have recourse should the company not provide their services; when using cash or check there is no recourse if you want to try and get your money back.

n A Rush Offer – companies will often put a deadline on their offer to try and get you to commit quickly

Other helpful tips to avoid a ruined dream vacation:

* Read all of the rules of your package carefully.

* Determine all costs involved in booking this vacation.

* Know exactly what is included, what is excluded and what the taxes are.

* Before traveling, confirm all arrangements directly with the:

o airline, cruise line, etc.

o hotel, timeshare resort, etc. (By requesting descriptive brochures directly from the lodging you may avoid any unpleasant surprises once you arrive.)

o business sponsors such as restaurants or resort attractions offering discount or other coupons

When planning a vacation through a third party call the BBB at 636-1155 or (866) 206-1800 to check out the company.