All you have to do is sit for a 90-minute presentation about a travel company.
It sounded inviting to Alyssa and Scott Geibel of Somerville, so they gave it a try.
They didn’t realize until later that they were hoodwinked, part of a widespread travel promotions scam that seems to involve half a dozen company names and one owner.
For the Geibels, it started in the fall of 2009 when they received a post card from a Manalapan-based company called Away We Go Travel. The company offered a free vacation to those who would come to the office and listen to a seminar.
Alyssa Geibel went on Sept. 23, 2009.
‘‘He said we’d only have to pay $498 for taxes and port fees for the cruise, and $100 as a placeholder for the air fare, which we’d get back when we got the tickets,’’ Geibel said.
As instructed, Geibel filled out some paperwork and in October 2009, she mailed two money orders to a Philadelphia address. (Geibel later learned it was a UPS Store.)
Soon after, the Geibels tried to book their vacation.
‘‘We filled out their forms letting them know where we wanted to travel and when, and twice they could not fulfill our requests,’’ Alyssa Geibel said. ‘‘Away We Go then e-mailed me a bunch of dates to choose from, so I chose the dates they gave me and filled out their form for the third time, and still they were not able to accommodate us.’’
She said she received an e-mail saying there was no availability for the flights on their chosen dates — dates the company told her to choose to ensure availability.
The Geibels did their own research and found plenty of flights going to their destination, and they knew something was amiss. They decided to book their own trip, out-of-pocket, and then they contacted Away We Go for a refund.
“Your request for a refund of your airfare promotion deposit has been accepted. This message will be forwarded to accounting. Thank You, Promotions”
A second e-mail was even more concrete:
‘‘Your request for a refund has been accepted. It will be processed and sent out within 15 business days from the end of your promotional period. Thank You, Promotions.’’
The end of the promotional period was Sept. 23, 2010, and 15 business days beyond that was Oct. 14. Add a few more days for snail mail, and the Geibels should have received their checks by Oct. 23.
The Geibels wanted their money, but they were willing to wait.
THE SCAM RUNS WIDE
When the Geibels grew suspicious of Away We Go, they did a little research. They found complaints online about the travel company, and claims that Away We Go was linked to another travel club, Modern Destinations Unlimited (MDU).
Interestingly, MDU is also based in Manalapan.
The two companies also share the same owner, Daryl Turner.
But it goes further. In the spring of 2009, the New Jersey Attorney General’s office filed suit against several travel companies — Dreamworks Vacation Club, also known as Dreamworks Vacations and Dreamworks, Five Points Travel Company and Bentley Travel — all owned and operated by Daryl Turner. Yes, the same Daryl Turner who runs Away We Go.
Turner’s reach went even further. In June 2009, two more travel companies — La Bonne Vie and Dream Vacations International — were added to the suit. These, too, were run by Daryl Turner.
And again, in August 2009, Daryl Turner’s Vacation Clubs was added to the lawsuit. Then Modern Destinations Unlimited — also Daryl Turner’s handiwork — was added in December 2009.
“The company names change but we allege the common thread of fraud and deception remains, all of it linked to Mr. Turner,” said then-Attorney General Anne Milgram in a news release. “Our goal continues to be obtaining restitution for defrauded consumers and ensuring that these defendants comply with our laws and regulations.”
We touched base with Consumer Affairs for a complaint head count and to see where things stood. Acting Director Thomas Calgagni said the division is well aware of Daryl Turner and his travel companies, and the lawsuit is now in the discovery phase.
To date, nearly 550 consumers have filed complaints against Turner’s companies, Calgagni said.
It also seems Daryl Turner hasn’t given up on the travel business.
‘‘It’s our understanding Mr. Turner has formed at least one more business enterprise — Blue Water Travel,’’ Calcagni said, though he wouldn’t discuss the specifics.
He was also interested to learn about Away We Go.
‘‘This division is not through with Mr. Turner, not by a long shot, and we’re asking that any consumers who believe they have been taken advantage of by any of Daryl Turner’s businesses file a complaint with the Division. The sooner, the better,’’ Calcagni said.
Without high expectations, Bamboozled called all the telephone numbers associated with Away We Go. One had a recording identifying the business as Away We Go. We left messages, but no calls were returned. Other telephone numbers associated with the company were disconnected.
E-mails to the company were not returned.
Messages left at a home number listed to a Daryl T. Turner were not returned.
Perhaps Consumer Affairs will consider adding Away We Go to its lawsuit against Daryl Turner and his other travel companies.
Your complaints could help. To file a complaint with Consumer Affairs, go online at state.nj.us/lps/ca/comp.htm or call (973) 504-6200 or (800) 242-5846.
Alyssa Geibel has already filed her complaint, and she’s hoping something will come of it.
‘‘Right now we could use that $600, especially with money so tight,’’ she said.
We’ll keep you posted on any developments.