The state Division of Consumer Affairs announced Thursday it has filed a lawsuit in state Superior Court against travel club companies operating under several different names, charging they failed to provide any services to consumers and misrepresented their relationship with hotel, airline and through the unauthorized use of their logos.
Named as defendants are Dreamworks Vacation Club, which is also known as Dreamworks Vacations and Dreamworks, Five Points Travel Co. and Bentley Travel. They are accused of depicting specific resorts, regions and packages in mailings and sales presentations that, in actuality, were not available to consumers. Also named is Daryl T. Turner, the owner and operator of all the companies.
The investigation that led to the state's action began with the Burlington County Consumer Affairs Local Assistance office, and was referred to the Division of Consumer Affairs for joint investigation. Burlington Consumer Affairs Director Renee L. Borstad joined state Consumer Affairs Director David Szuchman in Cherry Hill to announce the lawsuit.
"We believe the defendants had no intention of providing the advertised travel services,'' Szuchman said. "They lured consumers in with promises of deep discounts, free gifts and misrepresentations about their affiliation with respected corporations, all for the purposes of defrauding consumers and enriching themselves."
"Dreamworks and its other vacation clubs offered a ‘dream' vacation that was too good to be true,'' Borstad said. "Consumers must realize that high-pressure sales tactics, coupled with prepaid vacation packages, plus freebee airline ticket offers are always a dangerous combination."
In addition to not providing the contracted-for travel packages, the defendants also did not provide the free gifts that consumers were led to believe they would receive, including seven-day cruises, round-trip airline tickets for two, hotel stays, free dinners, car rentals and free gas coupons. When consumers contacted the "800" telephone number listed on the mailings to claim their gifts, they were informed that they had to attend a 90-minute sales presentation for vacation packages. Even if they attended the presentations, consumers were not provided with the gifts.
Consumers paid $1,200 to $8,000 upfront to purchase a vacation package, but were not provided with the airline, hotel or other travel arrangements at the price and quality represented by defendants prior to purchase.
Dreamworks and Five Points Travel Company have business and mailing addresses in Parsippany, Sewell in Gloucester County; and Westampton in Burlington County. Bentley Travel is not incorporated to do business in New Jersey. Turner's address of record is in Cherry Hill.
The state's eight-count complaint, filed in Superior Court in Morristown, alleges the defendants violated the Consumer Fraud Act and Advertising Regulations by:
- Utilizing the terms "Bailout", " Division of Revenue" and "Department of Funding" on mailings sent to consumers to falsely imply that the mailing originated from a state or federal government agency or department.
- In mail solicitations and other advertising materials, utilizing without authorization, the trademarks of airlines, hotels, car rental companies and restaurants.
- Forwarding mailings to consumers, which indicated that consumers were entitled to complimentary gifts, when receipt of such gifts were conditioned upon attendance at a sales presentation for vacation packages.
- During sales presentations, inducing consumers to purchase vacation packages by showing them brochures with resort areas and packages that were not available.
- Advising consumers prior to purchase that they have the right to cancel the contract=2 0if they were not satisfied with the vacation package, and then refusing to perm it the consumers to cancel the contract.
- Charging consumers' credit cards for fees and services that were not authorized by the consumers.
- Submitting bills to collection agencies after consumers have cancelled the contract and formally disputed the charges.
- Representing to consumers that they were members of the Better Business Bureau in good standing, when such was not the case.
- Failing to disclose to consumers prior to their purchase of a vacation package that they would be required to pay additional fees prior to utilizing the service.
- Requiring consumers to sign incomplete or blank sales contracts for vacation packages and then failing to provide consumers with full and accurate copies=2 0of such contracts.
- Failing to include in the contract a statement advising consumers of their right to cancel prior to the midnight of the third business day after execution of the contract.
- To date, the state has received complaints from 198 consumers against the defendants either directly or from the Burlington County consumer affairs office.
- The state's lawsuit seeks injunctive and other relief, maximum civil penalties, consumer restitution and reimbursement of the state's legal fees and investigative costs.
- "There were no unexpected issues here that affected the defendants' ability to arrange flights, rental cars and accommodations - we allege that the defendants never intended to provide anything in return for the hard-earned money that consumers paid for these promised travel packages," Szuchman said. "Consumers in fact could find lower prices through free Internet web sites."
- Consumers can file complaints with the state Division of Consumer Affairs at www.nj.gov/oag/ca/ocp/ocpform.htm or by calling 1-800-242-5846 or 973-504-6200.
— TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM