Consumer watch: BBB grateful for help in getting rid of scammers

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Posted: Thursday, June 27, 2013 12:00 am

Last month, I wrote about a travel club gimmick that had set up shop in a Bellevue hotel.

The column, which detailed the BBB's investigation, had its desired impact. The group was running a questionable promotion that promised free hotel stays and round-trip airline tickets to anywhere in the United States, but they packed up and left town the day our column ran. The hotel manager informed me that the travel club was none too happy with the BBB's tough questions about the validity of their offer.

Unfortunately for the promoters of this gimmick, the next town they chose to set up in was Sioux Falls, S.D. They weren't aware, perhaps, that the BBB headquartered in Omaha has a branch office there, and when our Sioux Falls manager started receiving the same sorts of calls Omaha had been receiving about Victory Travel, she quickly contacted our South Dakota media friends, who issued warnings. Victory Travel left South Dakota after only a couple of days.

Running unethical outfits out of town is certainly gratifying. Our media partners provide opportunities for us to save our residents some serious headaches, but any satisfaction we experience, sadly, is usually short-lived.

Last week, in the span of a couple of hours, we had calls from two area seniors who had lost $50,000 and $40,000, respectively, in foreign lottery scams, which were devastating losses for these individuals. It deflates our operators to take these calls, and it's even harder to inform victims that there is little hope they will ever see their money again.

Victory Travel's presence here, while short, was not without fallout. Our office took numerous calls from couples who had taken the bait at the Bellevue presentations. They had dished out more than $6,000 each and were desperately trying to cancel their contracts or reach anyone at the companies they had contracted with to try to figure out what they had actually purchased.

The Better Business Bureau is working with these couples but, unfortunately, once the checks are cashed, refunds are extremely challenging to acquire.

Thankfully, all the news isn't that bad. I've been contacted by consumers who received Victory Travel's mailer from as far away as New York. They've reached out to me just to express their gratitude after finding last month's column in a Google search and not falling prey to the scheme because of it.

A couple from Ohio read the column after paying more than $6,000 to promoters they claim were identical to those we described. They had one day remaining on their three-day right to rescind and were calling their bank to stop payment on their check. To say that they were grateful for the Omaha World-Herald printing that information would be a significant understatement.

An Underwood, Iowa, couple who had attended a similar travel seminar earlier this year and dished out $9,600 contacted our BBB for help last week. After promised travel discounts and other perks never materialized, they sought a refund. They informed the BBB that their calls were not being answered and that they were nearly ready to concede that their money was gone for good, but our investigator worked with them and their credit card company and, within just a couple of days, their account was credited for $9,000.

It is difficult and unusual to recover these kind of lost funds, and there were smiles all around in Underwood and at the BBB.

Partners like The World-Herald are critical when it comes to warning the public about the ruthless and tireless attacks by schemers and thieves, and it's a pleasure when we experience some success and our community enjoys some measure of protection because of the information we're able to convey through this column.

When Mike Reilly, executive editor at The World-Herald, suggested this column, I know that was exactly his goal.

We're grateful for the opportunity to enlighten the public about the seemingly endless array of scams that continue to evolve in their complexity and sophistication. I look forward to writing again next month, and hopefully I'll be sharing more success stories soon.

Jim Hegarty is president of the Better Business Bureau representing Nebraska and southwest Iowa. To contact him, email jhegarty@bbbnebraska.org or call 402-898-8520.

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