Protecting yourself

Avoid a spring break nightmare

Emily Crone
Me on spring break in Venice Beach
Here’s a picture of me enjoying my spring break with some Venice Beach bums in 2006.

Back in college, as spring break approached, I clearly remember the campus being flooded with travel advertisements. Flyers were stapled on every bulletin board offering dirt-cheap ski trips with live music and kegs, and brochures advertising low-cost group trips to Mexico were scattered across classroom floors. I always thought there was something sketchy about them — I would have never given them my credit card information. It turns out my instinct was right. While spring break is meant to be a time of fun and relaxation (and perhaps a few too many margaritas), it’s also an opportune time for scam artists to take advantage of young adults.

A news article published earlier this week discusses a spring break scam that is still affecting college students a year later. The mother of a young man, Tommy Case, says her son used the company Coastal Vacation to book vacations for dozens of college students in Kentucky and Ohio for spring break 2007. Case thought the company was legitimate, so he wired the money. Unfortunately, he received nothing in return, his mother says.

All of the other students are furious they paid Case money for a trip to Bahamas but never got the vacation or a refund. The students say Case gave constant excuses and they think he spent their money, while his mother insists he was as much of a victim as they were. A year later, the students are still waiting for the money, though Case’s mother says he will pay it back. No criminal charges have been filed, but the students have contacted the Better Business Bureau and Kentucky Attorney General’s office.

Anticipating this year’s spring break, Ohio’s attorney general has issued tips for students on how to avoid becoming “targets of shady travel agents who lure them in with phony promises of ‘free’ trips, ‘bargain’ airfares and ‘special’ accommodations,” a press release says . According to the release, some typical catches in spring break “bargains” include requirements to buy an extra ticket at a higher price and having to listen to a long time share pitch in order to get the cheap rate.

The attorney general’s spring break tips are as follows:

1)    Be leery of postcards and phone calls that promise a free vacation or trip. These often are a “come-on” to get consumers to call, only to be pressured into buying an overpriced package or membership in a travel club that could be purchased for less from a local, reputable travel agent.
2)    Get complete written details about prices, and ask about extra costs for such things as taxes, deposits and service fees. Also, inquire about cancellation policies and whether there is a penalty for postponing or changing the dates of the trip.
3)    If you have to make a down payment with a travel company, use a credit card. If anybody makes additional charges to your card, federal law allows you to dispute unauthorized charges of more than $50 with your credit provider.
4)    Never give out personal or financial information under the guise of reserving hotel space or airline reservations. The person you’re talking to may use your information fraudulently to charge items to your account, and your trip may never materialize.
5)    Don’t be pressured into purchasing a vacation, travel package or travel club membership. Insist on time to think it over and, in the meantime, check out the travel company’s reputation with the Attorney General’s office or the Better Business Bureau.

Before calling the number on the brochures lying around campus, consider booking a trip through Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline or a similar online travel marketplace that has considerable deals but thorough protection policies.

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