ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - It's spring break for many families, which could mean taking the family on a vacation.
When doing so, vacationers expect to get what they paid for, but every year Florida receives thousands of complaints from consumers like Deborah Hardin about travel scams.
Hardin filed a complaint against Blue Star Cruises, a company that offers luxurious cruise vacations.
The phone call
She wishes that when her phone rang from the company, that she would've never listened to what the person on the other line had to say.
“I get a phone call out of the clear blue about a vacation package," she said. "They say it’s a great deal $59. I have 18 months to take it. I just pay port fees and tax."
It was such a great deal that she talked her friend into going with her. They upgraded from three nights to seven.
“She was excited. I told her where we’d be. It was the Grand Lucaya,” Hardin said.
The resort was pictured on the company's website.
“Weeks before the trip, I get an email with itinerary and the facility has been changed to the Pelican Bay,” Hardin said.
There were other changes Hardin wasn't expecting.
“They said facility was not open and apologized but that was unacceptable to us,” says Hardin. “When we got on the boat and then to the hotel it just wasn’t what we were expecting, nothing like was portrayed on the website.”
10Investigates found dozens of complaints against Blue Star Cruises that were filed with the Better Business Bureau, another handful with the Florida Department of Agriculture and three with the State Attorney General's office.
The company also has an 'F' rating with the BBB and as of now does not have the proper licensing with the state of Florida to offer travel booking services.
“All of it was a nightmare,” Hardin said.
10Investigates called the company multiple times, but after hearing from no one, drove to its Tampa office.
Upon arrival,the building manager said no one from the company has been there in months and she was having a difficult time reaching someone herself.
Do your research
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services received more than 1,000 complaints regarding travel or vacation plans last year, which is why Bryan Oglesby with the Better Business Bureau says travelers have to protect themselves.
“Anytime someone pressures you into making a decision, you need to be able to digest information and research company,” he said.
Travelers shouldn't have to make any quick decision with any company they're working with, Oglesby said.
“It’s important when you do business with any company, you realize the fees involved," he said. "You need to stop and ask conditions. Understand terms and conditions. Check the company out so you can research what they are offering to you."
Tips Hardin wishes she would have done after that first phone call.
“I hope the attorney general looks at these companies cow herding people into their state and how they are handling consumers to lure us with false information,” she said.
Here's some tips from the Florida Department of Agriculture when it comes to safeguarding your money:
- Never give out credit card or checking account numbers over the phone unless you initiated the call and are certain of the company’s credentials.
- Beware of high-pressure sales tactics and pitches that require immediate payment. Do not make hasty decisions. Be especially wary if a company offers to have someone pick up your money.
- Read the entire contract thoroughly, ask questions, and do not sign it if you have doubts about anything.
- Check with other travel agencies in your area and compare the offers.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Click here to file a complaint against a company.
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