September 27, 2013

The cure for rude scammers is Thai food

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:
•  Conduct sales seminars
•  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
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.
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.

Leftovers.
As for the 'free tickets', they are basically useless. We were told upfront there would be certain fees associated with the tickets — airline fees, airport fees and taxes. We figured even if the tickets cost us $100 each, it would still be cheaper than buying the tickets we wanted. There are so many processing fees and restrictions, including undisclosed fee amounts, that we would never attempt to redeem them. We read stories online of people ending up paying more for their 'free' tickets than it would have cost to buy them outright, with travel restrictions being so severe that the tickets were virtually only usable 32 days per year. The whole experience confirmed what I knew when I first saw the letter — scam, scam, scam. Now we need to see what the %#^@& Delta had in mind when telling us it was legitimate. The old cliché still stands — you don't get something for nothing.

31 comments:

  1. You never know until you try so at least you gave it a try, but your intuition was spot on. Next time paper airplane it to the recycling bin.
    Deep fried brussels sprouts sound wickedly delicious. I gotta find some of those. ;)

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    1. Haha! I like the paper airplane idea. If you don't want to deep fry them, roasting is a pretty close choice.

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  2. Aren't those brussel sprouts amazing? We love them and go at least twice a month (we live in Kirkland). We also really like the Pad See Ew—it has a really good smokey taste to it. The satay you had is also great, and we love their spring rolls. My 2 year old begs to go to "Thai food" all the time! Glad you at least had a good dinner.

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    1. Amazing, yes! They don't seem to have them at the Seattle location. I guess we'll have to go to Bellevue when we want Thai food. :)

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    2. They told us last time we were there that they were going to start serving broccoli made the same way—can't wait!

      Here's a post I wrote on Araya's last year: http://frieddandelions.com/arayas-vegetarian-place-a-restaurant-review/

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    3. We always enjoy the buffet (the price is now $10) at both Arraya's, but the menu items seem to be better on the East Side. Sometimes we have great food at the Seattle branch, and sometimes not so great. I love how they label the GF items on the buffet.

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  3. Bleh, I'm sorry you had to sit through that. Scams like this are very frustrating. I just had a similar thing happen, where someone tricked me into sitting through a presentation about a pyramid scheme. You know it's a pyramid scheme when they say over and over that it's not.

    Free tickets and deep fried Brussels sprouts are definitely a good consolation. Your whole meal looks like it was amazing!

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    1. Pyramid schemes — another frustrating scam project. The tickets are a scam within a scam and aren't going to happen, but the Brussels sprouts, I think, are going to be an ongoing consolation. I'm sure they have a positive effect on lifting the dreariness of day after day of rain.

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  4. I'm so glad you walked out of there! It's really great that you shared this, too, because I've known several people who have fallen for these types of scams (co-workers of ours). It's really awful what happens once they sign the papers & now they have lawyers involved.

    The Thai food certainly was a redeeming star after that! It all looks fantastic, especially the satay.

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    1. I really wanted to warn people — and put the company names out there. I wouldn't be surprised if they hooked a bunch of people last weekend — the crowd seemed really taken in. It was a little surreal. But the food dispelled our gloomy mood pretty fast.

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  5. Ugh. So what's the deal with Delta on this one? Do you know that Larry and I are descendants of kings and queens in at least three third world countries if we give them our bank #s. We are not related if we don't. Yep, big inheritances coming our way..."Dear friend." Thank goodness for delicious comfort food.

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    1. Delta screwed up on this one. We must be related through our third world royal descendants. Are any of yours from Nigeria? I now believe that deep-fried Brussels sprouts have tranquilizing properties.

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    2. Yes, Nigeria how did you know, dear friend! We are related!!! but you can digest those delicious brussel sprouts better than I can :(

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  6. Oh my goodness, Andrea! That is such a crazy story. If Delta had told me it was legit, I would have probably done the same thing and gone to the "presentation" too. In truth, though, I usually just recycle all of those types of things without really even looking closely enough at them to see what they are really about. I hope none of the people there fell for the scam!

    Courtney

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    1. I usually recycle all of them, to, and was about to recycle this one until my husband called Delta. I suspect at least some of the people bought into the travel club, but guess I'll never know since we were the first to leave.

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  7. These scammers just don't give up do they. They are getting sleazier all of the time. So glad you went with your gut in the end and didn't buy into it. Glad you shared it though because this does happen all of the time.
    At least you had a yummy meal.

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    1. We never intended to buy anything, we just wanted the tickets. But, we realized that the tickets were a scam, also, and didn't follow through with them. Shoulda known better. Stupid Delta.

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  8. Ugh, how terrible! I am glad you got at least some delicious food!

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    1. Yes. Going out to dinner afterwards was the only good part!

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  9. I'm sorry to hear about the scam, it sounds really scary! I've never flown with Delta, but a bit glad that I didn't after reading this. But I'm glad Thai FOOD is the cure for that horrible situation! :) The tofu satay looks super good especially the brussel sprouts!

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    1. I don't think Delta is in on the scam, but they did lead us astray. We're going to contact them with our concerns. The Brussels were supreme!

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  10. At least it wasn't entirely a waste of an evening - deep fried tofu and brussels can make things better! It's a wonder that these scams still are allowed to continue - it's stunning people can get away with this. Still, hopefully people will see this post and know not to get involved.

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    1. It was only because Delta gave it the OK that we went. We're pretty spam-proof, normally. And we never would have bought a membership, but I can certainly see how people could get hooked. The dinner certainly turned the evening around. :)

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  11. That is SO frustrating! It's sad to me that so many people get duped by those crazy scams.

    My husband and I stayed at a Hilton in Hawaii for our honeymoon and from the second we checked in they were begging us to join their timeshare properties. Slipping things under our door all week, calling our room once a day. You couldn't walk through the lobby without someone trying to drag us into a meeting. How DO those people live with themselves???!!!

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    1. I'm amazed that the Hilton condones this sort of thing — horrible, especially on your honeymoon. Makes me not want to ever stay at a Hilton.

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  12. Good for you posting this! Do you think the other "participants" were involved in the scam? I agree with you- the most important thing at this point is to find out why Delta would have called this "legitimate." Thanks goodness for your great meal.

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    1. Yes, I think they were all dishonest. From the recruiter company that used a Delta Airlines look-alike logo on their letterhead to the 'free ticket" agency, they were all scamming to a degree. It was Delta Airlines that threw us, but we never intended to buy into anything, just to get the ticket. Deep down I knew it was probably phoney, but there's always that little shred of 'maybe' that messes with your mind.

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  13. oh wow. that is just insane. someone tried to sell us timeshare when we were in Maui and after half an hour of pushing and me not budging, they let is go with a scowl on their faces. that is one good meal after all that. another thing we learnt after moving into a house is that anyone that comes to the door is a scam:) hubbs learnt it the hard way.

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    1. You really have to stay on your toes to avoid scammers these days. I hope you didn't get cheated in a house repair scam!

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  14. That is horrible! If these scammers would put as much effort into a decent business who knows how successful they would be. But then again maybe they make more money being scammers. I can't believe the person at Delta told you it was for real! I'm so sorry you had to go through all that. I am glad that you at least were able to enjoy a nice meal.

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    1. I kind of think they choose option number two! But, Delta! No excuse for that.

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