A travel nightmare. Families who spent thousands on their dream vacation find out their trip is just one big scam. And now their travel agent is behind bars.
“These are my cruise lines,” says Pinellas Park resident Shari Phillips.
Phillips has the documents—they even come with the agency's letterhead. These she thought were her ticket to her family's Disney cruise.
“It was 3 cabins, 3 verandas -- it was a package,” says Phillips.
Her agent, Janet Bender, is from Cruise One Travel agency.
“She was great on the phone, walked me through all steps. She said she could get all these goodies. It seemed like a dream come true,” says Phillips.
The family was to set sail in March.
“Cruise day came and went and no cruise for us,” says Phillips.
Instead, her travel agent Bender was arrested for fraud by the Pinellas Park Police Department
“I was out $5,700,” says Phillips.
And she found out she wasn’t the only victim, police say, Bender stole even more.
She was also arrested by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office for seven counts of grand theft after selling fraudulent cruise vouchers.
Arrest affidavits show that Bender sold fraudulent cruise vouchers. Customers would give her cash or a check made out to her.
“Definitely a red flag,” says Alexandra Treiber-Kawar, a travel agent with Bowen Travel.
She says never give cash, and if you write a check, make it out to the company.
“If I was buying a cruise, I’d want an invoice see if there was a ticket number,’ says Treiber-Kawar
You can also ask to see confirmation from cruise line. She says also know the history of both the agency and agent your dealing with.
“It is always buyer beware. Deal with someone you know of and someone you know you can talk to and can prove have put money in right place,” says Treiber-Kawar
For Phillips, she says she paid by credit card, thought the agency was reputable, and never thought her dream trip would turn into a nightmare.
“It’s a small justice for her to go to jail because those families won’t get their trips back,” says Phillips.