And now a bank’s red tape is delaying their refund.
Last month, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office announced a $3 million settlement with Daryl Turner of Cherry Hill. The settlement said Turner operated 11 travel company shams in locales that included Egg Harbor Township, Manalapan and Marlton. When things got hot, the state said, Turner would up and move, changing company names and leaving customers empty-handed.
The frauds were perpetrated under the names Dreamworks Vacation Club, Dreamworks Vacations, Dreamworks, Bentley Travel, Modern Destinations Unlimited, Blue Water, Five Points Travel Company, La Bonne Vie, Dream Vacations International, Vacation Clubs LLC and Away We Go Promotions.
Dream Vacations is who the Gordons tried to do business with.
They received a postcard in the mail offering a free vacation if they’d attend a seminar. The Gordons went in February 2009, and they were hooked. They charged $3,993 on their Bank Of America MasterCard to join the travel club, and they were promised free vacation vouchers and discounted future travel.
“I was suspicious the next day when no one answered the phone for membership services, and the phone number that was given to call was a different travel company,” Gary Gordon said.
Gordon said he immediately notified Bank of America, but it didn’t accept his dispute of the charge. He said the bank has since told him it is reviewing the settlement and what it means to its customers, but for now, he’s out of luck.
“(The representative) is currently holding fast to the rules of MasterCard, which state all charge-back disputes have to be resolved within 90 days,” said the Parsippany resident. “Since my claim dates back to February 2009, Bank of America cannot charge back my money.”
Seems that justice — and restitution — is moving slowly for the Gordons and for hundreds of other customers who paid for their travel benefits with their credit cards.
What the banks say
Bank of America said consumers may be out of luck.
Spokesman T.J. Crawford said though the bank is aware of the settlement, it is bound by “card association charge-back rules.”
That refers to the agreement Bank of America has with MasterCard.
“We have been talking to the AG’s office about a potential resolution for our customers; however, we cannot guarantee the outcome of any billing dispute or whether it may be eligible for processing as a charge-back under the applicable credit card association charge-back rules,” Crawford said in an e-mail.
Bank of America is essentially saying MasterCard’s rules are what is holding up customer refunds. We took that to MasterCard.
MasterCard returned our calls, but it didn’t have an answer in time for this story.
We asked the state Division of Consumer Affairs what happens next.
While some consumers have received the charge-backs, acting director Thomas Calcagni confirmed that hundreds of other victims were Bank of America customers, and they were denied just as the Gordons were.
“We’re going to work through this,” Calcagni said. “We’re committed to fighting for the consumer.”
Calcagni said the division will be meeting with Bank of America and any other institutions that are not giving charge-backs to consumers.
If the charge-backs don’t work, there are other means to get money back to consumers. The $2.2 million earmarked for restitution is separate from the charge-backs, said spokesman Neal Bucchino, and funds recovered through charge-backs will not be duplicated through the $2.2 million.
So far, Turner has not paid any money to Consumer Affairs as part of the settlement.
We checked back with the other travel families Bamboozled had profiled to see if they got their money back.
Stephanie Cohen paid $1,000 to Away We Go Promotions on a Bank of America Visa, and the Matawan woman said she hasn’t received her money yet.
The Riccardis and the Geibels also paid money to Away We Go. They paid by money order, and they have not received refunds yet, they said.
But hey, Bamboozled thinks it’s coming.
“The wheels of justice grind slowly, but exceedingly fine.”
We’ll keep you posted.
If you did business with any of the travel companies named in the settlement and you want to file a complaint with Consumer Affairs, go online at http://www.state.nj.us/lps/ca/comp.htm or call (973) 504-6200 or (800) 242-5846.
The clock is ticking for Rolando Velazquez, the owner of Clear Flow, a Jersey City-based heating and plumbing company.
It had contracted to do some work with Habitat for Humanity of Hudson County (formerly of Jersey City), a nonprofit group that builds affordable housing for low-income families.
Habitat gave $7,500 to Clear Flow’s Velazquez, but the work never happened. In January, Velazquez promised Bamboozled it would return $3,000 to Habitat.
Three months later, it hasn’t happened, according to Habitat’s executive director, Santos Murillo.
We wanted to ask Velazquez the reason for the delay. After leaving half-a-dozen messages, he answered our call.
“I haven’t sent it yet because I’m waiting on some money,” Velazquez said. “I can probably do it by March 15.”
So we called again on March 15.
“I’m going to mail a check on Friday, and we’ll get you people wrapped up once and for all,” Velazquez said.
Sounds good to Bamboozled, and Habitat’s Murillo will let us know.
The group plans to use the refund for its new project, a three-unit home in Kearny that will offer wheelchair access for the first-floor unit.
If you’re a professional contractor, or just handy, or if you’d like to help in some other way, contact Habitat for Humanity of Hudson County at habitathudsoncounty.org, call (201) 207-7100 or send a note to P.O. Box 6483, Jersey City, N.J. 07306.