Avoid becoming a victim of fantasies

Avoid becoming a victim of fantasies

With the global travel boom in full swing in 2023, analysts at the Economic Intelligence Agency predict a 30% increase in international tourist arrivals to South Africa. That means millions of tourists and lots of cash, which presents plenty of opportunity for fraudsters.

The South African Association of Travel Agents, Asata, is now warning consumers to be vigilant and only deal with accredited tour operators so they have recourse.

Asata is a voluntary association with no regulatory powers and accounts for about 90 per cent of South Australia’s tourism industry. As CEO Otto de Vries explained, it cannot take any action against non-members. But it does have leverage over its own members, which are properly vetted.

The tourism industry is not regulated, De Vries said. “You need to think very carefully when working with a trusted travel partner. Our members are audited every year. If at any stage I have concerns about anyone’s financial situation, I can ask them for a special purpose audit, The audit had to be delivered to me within 10 days. They signed our constitution and code of conduct. We have a charter signed by all major groups.”

easy target

According to TransUnion data, the travel and leisure industry is one of the industries most affected by digital fraud attempts in the world, with a 156% increase in digital fraud attempts in 2021.

The recent reports of the Priority Escapes scam came after Hello Darlings founder and “holiday scammer” Tasneem Moosa was accused of defrauding more than 2,000 South Africans of around R100 million before abruptly liquidating the company and enter the company. hide. The police have registered about 400 cases of fraud.

that citizen Francois Swart, the “general manager” (apparently the sole director) of Priority Escapes, a Johannesburg-based travel agency, has been accused of defrauding a large number of victims, the report said.

The victims claimed that he sold them holiday packages, but that instead of offering his clients their dream holidays, he had apparently started running away.

Primarily catering to the traveler with higher expectations, Priority Escapes claims to be South Africa’s only Maldives travel specialist, offering exclusive and tailor-made deals that will take you ‘straight to paradise’.

The “establishment” offers affordable holidays (wake up one) that include direct flights to the Maldives (wake up two).

From December 2022, there will no longer be direct flights from Johannesburg to Maldives.

On August 12, Swart sent a letter to his clients stating that “…we find ourselves unable to meet our financial obligations to Priority Escapes customers and service providers…we have no choice but to cease trading immediately”.

Although Swart invites his clients to email (email protected) And said, “We are doing our best for customers affected by this and will communicate with you in due course.” The company’s website has been shut down, phone lines have been cut off, and its office in Fourways has also been closed.

Swart (39) appears to be having some success with clients, with Priority Escapes garnering rave reviews on social media (especially HelloPeter) and celebrity endorsements from actor and DJ Thando Thabethe and former Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi.

Complaint against HelloPeter

But problems started to emerge as early as May last year, when HelloPeter received its first complaint.

“Jacqueline A” described Priority Escapes bookings as “the most stressful and unprofessional travel experience ever from booking to travel.

“Will never recommend or use it again. From lying about Air Seychelles flight cancellations, to failing to book and confirm our transit seaplane and resort, to accusing Radisson of sending emails on days when a particular agent wasn’t working, Priority Escapes is very unprofessional for us to use this as an excuse for not responding to emails from the resort trying to confirm.

“The whole experience shows that their priority is their own convenience and taking responsibility of any kind is never on the agenda – every mistake they make is someone else’s fault (Air Seychelles, Radisson Blu – they are all blamed ).

“The fact that their client was stranded in Male for a day due to incompetence (never apologized or offered to help) but the fact that they were more than happy to take no responsibility and let the Radisson clean up their mess says it all. “

In October, Tshilidzi M said on HelloPeter that Priority Escapes made her hate traveling. After describing poor after-sales service and a horrific flying experience, she wrote: “Every experience with this agency has been a mess… No one called us after the trip to apologize.”

“Louise” is on a family holiday to the Maldives from December to January, which was originally scheduled to be booked and paid for in October 2021, but has been postponed due to COVID-19. Airport counter.

Speaking directly to Swart, she described the stressful and humiliating four hours they spent waiting to be transferred to a hotel after a nine-hour flight.

“What you did then and now is disgraceful, in fact it could be criminal and we are seeking legal advice. We have told everyone we know – there are ethical, responsible tourist shops out there but Priority Escapes is not one of them.”

Air Seychelles

Those planning a trip to “paradise” this year with what Swat calls an “escape artist” (consultant) don’t know that Air Seychelles has been operating a direct flight from Joburg to Male, the capital of the Maldives, since last August. flight. , announced that it will no longer fly this route from the end of December 2022.

Many Priority Escapes customers were told by Swart weeks or days before departure that they would not be able to catch a direct flight to Paradise (the agency had issued them vouchers).

Victims paid large deposits up front, some of which were paid in full months in advance.

Swart could not be reached, nor could the comments be tracked down.

google is your friend

There are plenty of warning signs, and one sure sign, according to de Vries, is that it’s cheap — especially compared to some of the other offers.

Another huge neon warning sign is the agency/vendor refusing to accept credit card payments.

“It might seem a little weird, but it’s actually very, very important because when you use a credit card, you have chargeback protection if the service isn’t provided within 180 days. When the operator says, ‘No, we don’t accept credit cards, you When you have to send an EFT’, you’re basically paying cash, which should be an immediate red flag.”

Google is your friend; always do your homework. Anyone should do simple checks and balances before dealing with a vendor, especially before handing over large sums of money.

As De Vries puts it: “Get a quote from another travel agent. If they say, ‘Sorry, man, those flights don’t exist anymore’ and you still go ahead and book, that’s your responsibility.”

Asata tips on protecting yourself from scams

  • Too Good To Believe Deals: Eye-popping prices, exclusive deals and limited-time deals that will make even the savviest traveler click “Book Now”.
  • Fake Booking Sites: Behind beautiful designs and stunning photos of destinations lurk fraudsters waiting for your click.
  • Fake Air Tickets: A sudden cheap air ticket to a popular destination grabs your attention. After paying, the tickets either never honored or were fake.
  • High-profile event scams: Large events, such as sporting events or religious pilgrimages, are a gold mine for scammers.
  • Vacation lodging ccandals: A tranquil beach house with a rock-bottom listing price.
  • Email Trap: An innocent-looking email from a “reputable” travel company might just be a phishing scheme. They will usually scam you out of your personal details under the guise of “confirmation”.

If you suspect you have been scammed:

Contact your bank’s anti-fraud department and request the chargeback option, which is only available if you paid by credit card and not EFT, and report the incident to the police. DM

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