A scheduled travel seminar was abruptly shut down Thursday afternoon in Burlington over concerns it may be a scam.
"Well we've seen these travel seminars before. There's no return address. There's a phone number but it's not a local phone number, there's no address, there's no company name," says Janet Murnane, Director of the Consumer Assistance Program. "So they're very suspicious and we suspected it was a scam."
The company operates under different names like Member Choice, Travel Suppliers of America, and Universal Concepts Inc. and sent out mailers telling people they were part of a select group qualified for free plane tickets and hotel stays. But that was all a tactic designed to get people to show up to the seminars and then sign contracts for thousands of dollars to get discounted airfare.
"We want consumers to be aware that when they're offered something for free, they need to be suspicious," Murnane says. "This flyer did just that."
That deceptive mailing, and the fee for hundreds of dollars to cancel the contract, are both illegal in Vermont, and after receiving complaints from people who attended earlier sessions, the Attorney General's office stepped in. The AG's office says the company agreed to cancel the seminar, but said it would still hand out the vouchers to the dozen or so who showed up. Whether they will get the promised free travel though is anyone's guess.
"We were going to go into this with eyes wide open, and now we're really going to be careful," says Leonard Cadwallader.
A couple from New Hampshire heard a friend was visiting Florida from China and the letter, with the promise of free travel, offered the hope that they'd be able to see her. And when the company didn't pressure them for red-flag scam items like social security numbers, they came to learn more -- and ended up learning something entirely different.
"It was the hook that got us here, and to be cautioned about what perils exist beyond the attractiveness of the offer is what the state of Vermont should be doing for its citizens all the time," says Cadwallader.
We asked the company representative for comment, but he declined to speak with us on camera.
If you attended one of these seminars, signed up, and don't want your membership, the AG's office says to contact them to file a complaint and then to contact your bank or credit card company and tell them it is an unauthorized charge.