Consumers and small business owners have been warned of what appears to be a travel agent scam, after at least 15 travellers lost more than $80,000 between them and were left “stranded” at airports across the world.
New South Wales Fair Trading Commissioner Rod Stowe issued a public warning on Sunday, saying the operators of myholidaysclub.com pose a “serious risk” to consumers
Stowe said the site provided e-tickets, itineraries and vouchers for car hires to consumers, but 48 hours before flights, payments were withdrawn, rendering them useless.
Those operating the website would then not answer calls for help or emails from consumers, and consumers seeking refunds have been asked to send additional money “to cover the costs of receiving refunds”.
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Stowe said myholidaysclub.com has been the subject of nine complaints in NSW over the combined losses of $31,000. Victorian consumers have lost a combined $50,000, with Consumer Affairs Victoria receiving five complaints, including from one person who lost $18,000.
“The scam is suspected to be operating offshore with more than one consumer asked to transfer money overseas,” he said.
In a worrying sign for businesses, Stowe said the Australian Business Number listed for myholidaysclub.com “appears to have been appropriated from The Holiday Club Pty Ltd, which is unrelated to the scam”.
The Holiday Club is a popular international travel organisation based in South Africa but operates all over the world.
“The [myholidaysclub.com] website features poorly written text and false testimonials from alleged consumers in English speaking countries,” Stowe said.
He said consumers should be “very wary” when looking for travel deals which offered prices that “seem too good to be true”.
The website was taken down early this morning and SmartCompany was unable to contact myholidaysclub.com for comment.
Sylvain Mansotte is the co-founder and chief executive of Whispli, an anti-fraud service that helps provide access for tip-offs and whistle blowing.
He told SmartCompany schemes like these pop up often.
“People can be quite naïve while travelling. They just want to trust someone when finding a good deal, but they don’t do their due diligence when finding a travel agent,” he says.
“They have got a budget, and they compare prices but not reliability.”
Mansotte says it is easy for consumers and other businesses to be sucked in by a false logo, stolen photos and “flashy websites” which offer deals and rewards.
But he says trust is key. “It’s really important that when spending two, five or ten grand on a trip you need to be able to trust who you’re with.”
But how do you find who to trust?
“The internet is the most fantastic tool you’ve got, it’s very easy to verify and you’ll get very easy advice on who you can trust. Everyone loves leaving a review of their travel agent,” he says.
“Look through the forums, and check TripAdvisor to see not just what they’re like but if they’re trustworthy.”
Mansotte says small business operators should also check and cross reference international travel agent accreditation numbers through the International Air Travel Association to ensure they are making bookings with legitimate providers.