Slick language and flashy images attempt to lure postcard recipients with false promises.
|Free Cruise Scam Postcard|
Free Cruise Scams Return
In the last few months several people have asked us about a specific postcard they have received. Even though these postcards have been sent to addresses as regionally diverse as Seattle to Massachusetts, they all have the same message...
I just received this email last night...
Hello Paul, Tonight I sit at my computer with tears in my eyes after reading your website; but I thank God I did!
We first cruised to celebrate "life." I had just finished four months of chemotherapy and my cancer seemed to be in remission. We've taken two short cruises since, because we loved it so much. The cancer isn't in remission, and I'm still receiving treatments, but we want to go on another cruise.
This week we received a postcard (which I still have), addressed to my husband. Receiving the postcard seemed an answer to my prayers. I'm embarrassed to say that I convinced my husband to attend the presentation, and tonight we drove two hours (round trip), and gave up several precious hours of our day (leaving our daughter elsewhere so we could attend).
When we arrived at the Sheraton Hotel, in Fairview Heights, Illinois – although we live in Missouri – we, along with about 15 others, sat on chairs in a hallway and filled out survey forms asking our personal (even salary) and contact information, and asking lots of questions about where we've traveled and where we'd like to travel. They also asked each attendee to show a driver's license and a credit card, although they didn't take any information from those. After all people had filled out their papers, we were brought into a small conference room and seated at tables by couple. A man gave a powerpoint-type presentation and talked about all the advantages of joining their vacation "club." After the presentation, only two couples actually remained to talk, and we were one of them.
Our representative, Brad, showed us a sheet with different tiers of belonging to "Packaged Vacations," beginning at $8999. I won't go into all the details, but before we were finished, we were being offered a "three-year" trial membership for $1595, with the option of paying the difference between that and the discounted club price of $2999 that Brad was offering us.
Although the plan sounded worthwhile, I wanted to get some concrete information about how their service could actually save us money on a cruise, or other travel. I told him of a cruise we would like to go on, and he left the room to find a price on it. However, even after I joined him in the hallway (he was on his cell phone, and another younger guy was at a computer trying to pull up information), he wasn't able to get actual information on that cruise ship at that time. It was getting late, and we weren't getting anywhere with answers, so we ended up leaving, with the understanding that he will contact us tomorrow night to give us the information about that particular cruise and their pricing.
I'm happy I found the information you posted on you website. I'm also extremely sad and disheartened that we've fallen for this scam and there really isn't any free cruise.
If you'd like me to send you copies of the postcard, or the paper and brochure we were given to get the free cruise, "just in case this didn't work out for us," I'd be happy to do so.
Again, thanks for the information you posted on your site; it's very likely to have saved us a lot of money. Sincerely,
|Note: to discuss these free cruise scams go to this forum.|
Here is a picture of the postcard:
Dear JOHN DOE
In celebration of our Anniversary in your area, you have been selected to receive a Complementary 7 Day/6-Night Cruise for 2 with an outside cabin, leaving from most major ports in the U.S.
Okay - how coincidental that they have anniversaries in so many areas at the same time. Next the card says:
CALL WITHIN 48 HOURS. YOU WILL ALSO RECEIVE AS A BONUS 2 Round Trip Airfares Leaving from or Going to Any Major Airport in the Continental U.S.!!
Where the card is addressed it uses the name of the real person who lives at the address listed, but then it says "or current resident."
JOHN DOE OR CURRENT RESIDENT 100 ANYSTREET RD ANYTOWN, AA, 11111-1111
At the bottom of the card it says:
WE HAVE BEEN TRYING TO CONTACT YOU! (THIS IS NOT A TIMESHARE OR LAND SALES OFFER)
Okay, what is wrong here? First, they misspelled "complimentary" as in "free" - or did they? Maybe they used the word "complementary" as in "two things that flatter or match each other," on purpose. In fact, they use that word twice. If you look carefully at the card, there is nothing that says you get anything for "free." You get a "Complementary" (well-matched) cruise and "2 bonus Airfares" - meaning you get the airfares (as in a quote for the cost of a flight), but nothing is said about a free flight. I'll give you a free airfare between two major U.S. cities right now: It costs $282 to fly from Phoenix to Ft. Lauderdale in early December, 2011. Another obvious giveaway is the pre-paid bulk postage. Why would a postcard giving a contest winner a "free cruise" come by bulk postage and be addressed to "or current resident?" If you ever really win a free cruise (and such things do happen, CruiseMates has given away several real free cruises), I guarantee you we would contact you personally, and we would never give your cruise to someone else just because they bought your house.
|Note: to discuss these free cruise scams go to this forum.|
TOLL FREE: 855-629-7755 MON-SUN 9:00 AM TO 9:00 PM
Sometimes an actual person answered the phone with the words "Travel Services." I then said, "I am calling about a postcard I received for a free cruise," and I was told, "Let me connect you." I was put on hold. I once stayed on the line for 20 minutes before I hung up. I have never had a conversation with any of these people. But many of our readers did - and some of them wrote to me to ask if this offer is legitimate. Needless to say, it is not. We started a forum about this postcard and one CruiseMates reader I will call J.D. came in to tell us he was playing along with the ruse just to see where it goes. All we could say was, "thank you for helping us investigate," but at one point I said, "I admit that I feel badly letting you continue." J.D. sat through a hard-sell sales pitch to join a travel club. We now know from the newspaper accounts that this travel club was signing up people for as much as $9000. They were supposed to get steep discounts on future travel of all kinds through a special web site, but most people report that the site was useless. In fact, they were told they had three days to get a refund on their money, but it took five days to activate their membership - so no one could see the uselessness of the company until they were already locked into the agreement. The people who have been arrested were charged with using trademarked names and logos illegally. In the picture you can see the front of the card has a Carnival cruise ship (with the company name airbrushed out). On the postcard it says "Carnival Cruises is not a sponsor of this offer, but they are a major supplier." Once again, slick language that really says nothing. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS CARD? I can personally see that this card is not an honest offer for a free cruise within the first 5 seconds. Above the message that says "Dear John Doe" is a picture of the iconic Carnival Cruise Lines smokestack. Next to the smokestack picture is the word "Carnival" in the same font as used by the cruise line in its official marketing - but nowhere does it say "Carnival Cruise Lines" the line's official name. Next comes the words: "Fly A US AIRLINES" - Once again, this is made to look like an official logo of a real company, however there is no "U.S. Airlines" - there is a company called "U.S. Air" If you do a Google search on the address given on the postcard you will see that it goes to a Florida corporation that has absolutely nothing to do with travel. One yellow pages type of web site shows a one-door office in a strip mall for a company named "Elbert Hale Wampler Jr Inc" which is described as a "Manufacturers Agents & Representatives." In other words - a professional "front" perfect for a fake company to hide behind. The phone number listed on the web site for Wampler Jr, Inc. has been disconnected. If you research the Wampler Jr. Company online, you will see many complaints of them sending out timeshare sales seminar invitations in the past - but that is another story.
|Note: to discuss these free cruise scams go to this forum.|
What is the REAL Story Here?
We have been contacted five or six times by people who have received this postcard. I am sure thousands of them have gone out nationwide. Here is what J.D. told us in the message board about this card. He called the company and has been going along with them, step by step, to see if he ever gets his free cruise. Here is what he reported:
May 24, 2011 - 10:08 a.m.
"We received the same post card and attended the sales pitch."
My wife and I attended the sales pitch for what sounded like a vacation time share. The sales pressure was on however my wife and I have been doing contract negotiations for 12 years. We didn't think of it as pressure but just another negotiation.
Anyway, we didn't buy but we got the free cruise certificate. We had to pay about $300 in registration fees so far. Now we are on the next step where we have to activate our certificate we paid the registration fee for within 5 days of receipt. We call the 800 number to activate it however all we get is voice mail for 2 days now. I'm beginning to think we were taken.
I have 2 days left to activate this certificate. We'll see what happens. I'll keep you all posted on how this works out.
Same Day - May 24 - 11:21 a.m.
Wow... Minutes after I posted this, my wife called me and told me the Travel Center people called her back. Guess what... We have to give them another $50 and this time they want our checking account number and bank routing number to take the $50 right out of our bank account. My wife told them that she was not comfortable giving out that information. The person on the other end of the phone said this is the only way they do this and if we wanted the cruise, we had to give this information.
OK. We'll keep playing along even if it is just to share this experience with everyone on this thread.
Will John & Sharon get the "FREE" cruise they were promised? How much more will this "FREE" cruise cost? The 855 number we are calling answers with a machine (Call Attendant) "Thank you for calling the Travel Center..."
May 24, 2011 - 11:57
This company wanted us to pay $10,000 up front to use their facilities world wide for 5 years. After you pay the $10k, each destination would cost you $799 per person per week. In some cases, this may have been a good deal but there was no guarantee the $799 per person was going to continue so we passed on the deal. They eventually came down to $3000. We didn't take it and they finally gave up and gave us the free cruise.
May 24, 2011 - 11:57 01:05 p.m.
Apparently, there was a warning that another fee may be required for processing on the certificate. The $50 was the total and not per person.
They don't have any other information than the information they could get off of any of my bank checks. The first registration fee was paid by check and not credit card.
If it all works out, we get a cruise. If we get burned, lesson learned. Either way I have something to write about to help others in this same boat. (..or is that a ship.)
May 25, 2011 06:43 a.m.
It turned out that it was $50 per person. My bad. We were told this was the last step and that we would be receiving a certified package in 14 days. After receiving the package, we work directly with the cruise line to schedule the cruise. We had one year to complete the cruise but for another $39.95, we could extend this offer to 2 years. Why not. If this is legit, I'll have to work out getting time off from the job which might be harder than getting this cruise.
So far, this feels legit. Then again, I've been wrong about that feeling before.
I'll keep you posted.
June 13, 2011 02:05 p.m.
As promised, the Free Cruise Certificate came in the mail on Friday. However, the person on the phone told me that I would be dealing directly with the cruise line after paying the registration fees. That is not what I got.
What they did send me was a certificate that says I am eligible for a 3, 4, 5, or 7 day cruise for 2. The accommodations are an inside cabin and upgrades may be available at an additional cost. All I have to do now is send them another $75 reservation fee (which is refundable so it says) within 30 days of the certificate date. I was supposed to get free airfare too. Guess they forgot about that.
Anyway... with this additional $75, we invested a total of $313 for our "FREE" cruise for 2.
My wife and I are thinking about the 7 day Caribbean cruise in January of 2012. They offer an East or West Caribbean cruise. If anyone has suggestions on which is best, I would be grateful. I'm also trying to figure out which cruise line to take (Royal Caribbean, Carnival, etc). Suggestions welcome!
I'll keep you posted. jd
June 14, 2011, 11:19 a.m.
As I said before, I'll take this as far as it goes. If this is a scam, I'm collecting a lot of information for the FTC and Postal Inspection Service to pursue this. If I eventually get a cruise, great. Bottom line is that I'm sharing this with all of you so there is an answer to: 'Has anyone actually taken a "free" cruise." BTW: My wife already sent in the $75.
I just emailed JD two days ago to ask him if there were any new developments. But a new reader came in just yesterday to say she had received the same postcard and she had called and spoken to a live person. When she asked what the required 90 minute sales meeting was for, she was told, "It's for our web site PackagedVacationsLLC.com". That was not the correct URL, but it led me down a path to PackagedVacationsLLC.net which is obviously set up by the company to AVOID looking like a scam site - and to dominate the Google rankings so the complaints about the company don't reach the listings.
(The trick here is to develop a web site full of all the key words people would use to expose the real company as a scam. They devoted dozens of pages and articles - all with their name and the word scam - but they are all positive articles about their own company - this is a very slick move).
But by searching on the phone number I eventually found the names of two people directly tied to the phone number on the post card. They had just been arrested in New Jersey last week.
In fact, they have been convicted of this before and have already promised to repay $millions in restitution. They also had to promise not to do this kind of business any longer, but they just couldn't resist.
In all, I estimate JD spent over $300 and he was still waiting for his "free cruise" certificate. And that pretty much sums up how this whole scam works - they keep promising you something, but you always have to pay to get to the next step - then once they run out if things to charge you for - they stop taking your calls.
J.D. - who has taken one legitimate cruise and loved it - is still holding out some hope he will get his free cruise. I hope so, too, J.D. but I am skeptical.
Here is the message board where we are discussing this free cruise business:
And here is J.D.'s last post:
I got Paul's email yesterday. I didn't realize my last entry was in June.
Anyway, here is my update. I'm still waiting for the travel package promised after giving up another $75.
Here is what happened since my last post. We received the Registration Validation Form from Fun Time Vacation. They have a PO Box in Boyds MD. We filled out the registration form right away and sent it with the check for $75 on June 12th. We had 30 days to return it with the check. On June 24th, we received a notice along with my original $75 check. The notice said that we wrote the check out to the wrong payee. The instructions did not tell us who to make out the check out to. So we guessed. On June 27, I sent a new check via USPS Priority Mail with Delivery Confirmation. The item was delivered to the address in Tampa FL on June 30 (still within the 30 day deadline).
Our check was cashed on July 15. We were told that we would receive the travel package 15 business days after they received payment. That means I should receive the package on August 5.
So far, we paid: $ 98.00 on 04/28 to Celebrity Productions - Woodbridge VA $ 139.00 on 05/26 to Fun Time Vacation via Electronic Fund Transfer $ 75.00 on 07/15 to Passport to Travel The total we invested so far is $312 for the FREE Cruise for two.
I read the article about the couple from Cherry Hill NJ being arrested for fraud. I used to live in Cherry Hill the first 14 years of my life (scary). The post card held up by Gary Sharp is the back of the same post card I received. The company names listed in the article do not match any of the companies I've dealt with so far. I called several of the different phone numbers on my paper trail and all of the numbers are still in service and being answered.
Is there still hope for the FREE cruise? I guess it is coming down to the wire. ..or I'll have to wire more money.
I'll check back as soon as I receive something or by August 15.
Thanks Paul for reminding me to post! jd