|Initial letter with notes written as I talked to the first scammer. (emphasis mine)|
Whenever I read about people being scammed, I wonder how they could have been tricked. Why didn't they see the signs? How could they be so naive? This is how.
When I get letters like this I look at them for a minute, wish they were real, then add them to the recycling bin. When the letter above arrived, and my husband saw it, I told him I'd already received a couple of others and was going to recycle it, but he was annoyed that we were getting so many letters, and proceeded to call customer service at Delta Airlines. We usually fly Delta, and he wanted to know if they had any connection to this. The Delta representative checked it out, called the number, and told Ken it was for real, and we would be given two tickets if we participated. My husband was on board (so to speak) and asked me to call the number on the letter. I was skeptical but I did it anyway, and was told that a large travel company was considering opening an office in Seattle, and was doing some preliminary marketing to see if a move here made sense. We would have to listen to a presentation and then we would get our tickets. "THIS IS NOT A TIMESHARE," he said. "This is a legitimate travel agency."
|E-mail confirmation of our appointment. (emphasis mine)|
The only available slot he had that would fit our schedule was at 5:30 the same evening in Bellevue — a nearby city just over the bridge. "We could go out to dinner afterwards," we said. We showed up to the appointment 15 minutes early as requested, and were asked to show ID and fill out a questionnaire, while we sat, along with a bunch of other couples, in a row of chairs. Eventually, each couple was invited to a large room filled with small round tables, where we met briefly with a personal representative. Let's call our guy 'Brad'. Brad engaged us in friendly (as in fake friendly) conversation about himself, us and our travel habits. I would say he was semi-enthusiastic. He explained a little about the company, assured us it was not a time share or other scam, then he left, and the main event started. We watched a powerpoint presentation about traveling around the world, and staying in wonderful hotels, resorts, bed and breakfasts, etc.We learned they were selling memberships in a travel club where we would have access to a personal concierge who would save us bundles of money for rooms, cruises, international airfare (but not domestic airfare) etc., etc. He explained the huge markups in travel costs and how they were able to save us 30 to 40% of normal costs. All this for a one-time-only $12,995 membership fee, $300 one-time-only activation fee and $299 annual fee. Seriously. What a deal, huh? On this night only, though, because we were the first in the area to be involved, our costs would be much less — $9,995, $300, $199. Beam me up, Scotty.
I looked around the room. The group covered a wide range of age, ethnicity and style. One couple seemed entirely normal and pleasant, except they owned three timeshares, and I feared they would soon be members of a scam travel club. The speaker used classic humor tugs to make people feel special and included. It seemed to be working particularly well on one young couple, the male of which clearly felt he was hipper than everyone else. I was growing more and more uncomfortable.
Finally, the presentation ended, and Brad came back to our table. We chatted. He kept asking me if I had any questions and I kept saying no, but I should have asked if his conscience ever bothered him. Finally, Ken told him that as a researcher, he couldn't commit to anything without checking it out first. Brad said he understood, and that the travel club had a A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau. He could set it up so we could come back the next day for the same price. Um, no thanks. Brad suddenly said he'd get us our ticket vouchers so we could be on our way, and he left the room. He was gone for at least five minutes, and it was really weird and uncomfortable. Everyone else in the room was engaged in animated conversation and we were just left there. When he finally returned he handed us the voucher, pointed out the "rules" and said we could leave. I was in a terrible mood. Not only did we feel scammed, we felt rudely scammed. Even though I knew Brad dismissed us because he knew we weren't going to be fooled into joining, I was very distressed by the procedure. And I also felt bad that I hadn't done anything to call the company out in front of the others. Why hadn't I asked the right kind of questions?
I was in such a funk I couldn't contribute to a decision on where to eat dinner so our default restaurant ended up being Arraya's Vegetarian Place — vegan Thai. Turned out to be a good choice, and we had a great meal.
What better food to order to squelch an evil mood than something deep fried, and when the deep fried food is brussels sprouts, you don't even have to feel guilty. (Maybe a little guilty.) The Brussels sprouts were fantastic — perfectly crisp and a little salty — and as I munched them I could feel my mood lifting. Sad to say I didn't have my camera with me and my phone was unequal to capturing the beauty of the sprouts.
Next came the tofu satay, and after one of these saucy delights, my mood was back to normal, and I wasn't even tired anymore. The tofu was both crispy and succulent.
My husband wanted tofu and noodles, which sounded terribly boring to me, but was actually delicious. It came with a small cup of soup, which he happily ate. The East Side Arraya's consistently serves up better food than the one near our house, I'm sad to say.
By the time we got home we were feeling pretty good — until we started doing research into the companies we had just dealt with, and read the fine print on the 'free tickets' letter and brochure.
There were actually four companies involved in the scam — one to locate and contact stooges and invite them to a presentation (American Travel Express), one to describe and sell memberships (Destination Vacation 365 or DV 365), one that is the actual travel company (Reservations Services International or RSI), and one that provides the ticket vouchers (Travel and Vacation Offers). You never know any of the company names upfront, so you can't look them up beforehand. As soon as we did we found scores of complaints and negative articles. Apparently there are many companies that can play the roll of DV 365, the company that holds the presentations and sells the travel club memberships. And the lines between the two companies are blurred, and hard to decipher. This is pretty typical of the the negative information I found online. On the BBB site I looked at, there were multiple complaints about RSI that had been resolved by RSI claiming they were not responsible for sales through other companies. On their Web site they say:
RSI does not do any of the following:What they do is contract with other companies like DV 365 to do their dirty work. They even have a DV 365 Web page as an example of how they 'help' partner businesses make money. All the companies seem to blame the other when complaints surface. It's hard to unravel exactly how it works — I could go on and on but you get the idea, I'm sure.
• Conduct sales seminars
If you feel you have been contacted by anyone representing themselves to be from RSI or affiliated with RSI for any of the items listed above, or you have any other questions about RSI and how we do business, please feel free to click the ‘Contact Us’ button below and one of our friendly staff will be happy to assist you.• Solicit individuals to attend sales seminars
• Send solicitations by mail to attend sales seminars
• Call individuals to attend sales seminars
• Procure, produce or distribute vacation certificates of any kind