Three FTC cases, 83 civil actions brought by 28 states, more than 184 defendants facing criminal charges in cases filed by federal and local prosecutors, and 25 actions brought by agencies in 10 other countries. If you’re unclear on whether law enforcers are presenting a united front against travel-related fraud, then we have some oceanfront property to sell you.
One of the scams targeted by the latest law enforcement sweep involves bogus offers to resell people’s timeshares. Here’s how the operators work: They call timeshare owners and claim to have people lined up ready to pay top dollar for timeshares. For an upfront charge — often falsely characterized as “filing fees” or “closing costs” — they promise to put them together with champing-at-the-bit buyers. Move fast, the high-pressure pitchmen urge. They need your place now.
But once the check has been cashed, those “eager buyers” disappear only to be replaced with endless umms and uhhs from the marketers. According to the FTC, one defendant avoided consumers’ complaint calls simply by putting them on hold indefinitely.
Also in law enforcers’ sights: deceptive travel prize promotions. Marketers lure people in with a “Congratulations. You just won!” pitch for discounted or “free” vacation packages. Most people got nothing. Others had to sit through high-pressure “Glengarry Glen Ross”-style sales presentations.
We hope your clients don’t use tactics like that, but there are other points businesses should take from this announcement.
United we stand. OK, maybe it’s not quite like Quincy Jones bringing everyone together to sing “We are the World,” but when the head of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, the Florida Attorney General, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and the Deputy Commissioner of Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services make a joint announcement like this, we consider it the consumer protection equivalent. Local, state, federal, and international agencies working together to make efficient use of law enforcement resources: That’s good news for consumers — and bad news for the scamming set.
The Dos and Don’ts of Do Not Call. The FTC cases allege violations of the Telemarketing Sales Rule, including cold calls to people on the Do Not Call Registry. Consumers have voted with their finger and the FTC has more than 200 million good reasons to keep the heat on telemarketers who flout the law. It’s a good time to remind clients of their responsibilities under the TSR.
Crime in the suites. Injunctions, financial remedies, and other consequences of civil lawsuits should make any sensible business person think twice before resorting to deceptive practices in travel-related promotions. But make sure your clients are aware that certain conduct can result in criminal prosecution. That’s a stay-cation no one wants to take.
The “coast” of “dune” business? It’s not just timeshare resale scams that have attracted attention. Other misleading practices are on the state and federal enforcement itinerary, too. If you have clients who market timeshare or travel promotions, let them know about the reservations law enforcers have expressed about misleading claims.