Attorney General Hardy Myers today announced that a Washington corporation that generated more than 75 complaints from disgruntled consumers buying its travel club memberships has agreed to satisfy present complaints and change its marketing practices. Named in an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance filed today in Marion County Circuit Court are Vacation Marketing Systems, Inc. (VMSI), which does business in Oregon as The Advantage Group, and its president Michael Vasey of Bothell, Washington. The agreement admits no violation of law.
"Buyers complained that VMSI misrepresented its ability to provide discount travel services for cruise fares and hotel rates to Oregonians and in some cases, then practically ignored their telephone inquiries and complaints," Myers said.
Department of Justice investigators interviewed consumers, who were solicited through newspaper inserts and by telephone. Typically, potential customers were promised free prizes or specific vacation packages in exchange for listening to a sales pitch for VMSI's travel club, "The Advantage." Many buyers agreed to travel to Washington for an "orientation" that some alleged turned out to be high-pressure sales pitches for a timeshare condominium by Pahio Resorts, owned by a separate company.
Consumers also complained of broken promises of discounts on cruise fares and hotel rates, unlawful telemarketing calls to subscribers of the Oregon "No Call List," and the company's practice of using a variety of names such as Advantage Systems. One company, Wild West Tours, when telemarketing for VMSI, used its own name and failed to mention VMSI or The Advantage.
VMSI has agreed to continue to satisfy the 75 current complainants and in today's assurance, promises to resolve any new complaints alleging violations of the consumer protection laws within 60 days of receipt or pay for arbitration. The company also agrees to use only names registered with Oregon's Secretary of State, to immediately subscribe to the Oregon's "No Call List" and comply with the state's telemarketing laws.
Under the agreement, the company will disclose in its initial contact with consumers that they must attend a travel club presentation to obtain their prize, if that is the case, and obtain a written consent before any Advantage member receives a Pahio timeshare sales pitch. When offering a three-day cancellation option, the company must clearly disclose its availability and if no option is offered, the company must inform the consumer that the sale is final.
VMSI paid $45,000 to the Department of Justice consumer education and protection fund.
Attorney General Myers has the following tips for consumers who are considering the purchase of travel services:
Never agree to purchase anything over the telephone before doing research. Check travel services on the Internet or consult resources such as the Consumer Reports Travel Newsletter.
Use established and reliable travel agents. Check for complaints by calling the Attorney General's consumer hotline and the Better Business Bureau.
Don't be pressured into making a quick decision. Legitimate businesses will allow a consumer time to make up his or her mind.
Ask "sellers of travel" for the names of all hotels, airlines, car rental agencies and restaurants that will be used on the trip. Confirm all reservations in advance of leaving on any trip.
Always ask for written information to be mailed before agreeing to anything and especially before providing credit card numbers or bank account information.
Never send cash or checks. Use credit cards when purchasing travel packages so that "charge-backs" can be pursued if the services are not received or delivered as originally represented.
Inquire about refund policies should either a consumer or the travel provider cancel the trip. Check for provisions to cover illness or family emergencies. Ask about cancellation insurance.
Consumers wanting more information on travel may call the Attorney General's consumer hotline at (503) 378-4320 (Salem area only), (503) 229-5576 (Portland area only) or toll-free at 1-877-877-9392. Visit the Department of Justice web site at oregon.gov or the Federal Trade Commission online at www.ftc.gov.
Jan Margosian, (503) 947-4333 (media line only) firstname.lastname@example.org