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Alert! First big travel scam since end of agent licensing

August 25, 2014 Corporate, Headline News 2 Comments Email Email

egtmedia59Western Australia’s Consumer Protection bureau has issued an alert about a travel scam in which consumers have apparently been duped into paying for flights and accommodation in Bali – only to later discover they were never booked with an airline or hotel. The same rip-off has hit consumers in Queensland.

In an ironic coincidence, the WA consumer alert was issued just a day or so after Western Australia’s parliament repealed the Travel Agents Act 1985. The repeal removes the need for travel agents in Western Australia to be licensed and completes the abolition of agent licensing in all mainland Australian states. Transitional arrangements in WA will be managed by the WA Consumer Affairs Department.

There is no indication that agent licensing would have made any difference to victims of the scam. Whether that’s the case has yet to be revealed.

Even so, the timing is unfortunate – almost spookily so. WA repealed the Travel Agents Act last Wednesday night. On Friday morning, Western Australia’s Department of Commerce issued the following alert:

Consumer Protection would like to hear from Western Australians who have paid for flights or accommodation with a travel business called Bali Indulgence, run by an Australian woman named Chivonne Betts, only to find they were not booked with the airline or hotel. 

While a small number of phone enquiries have been received by Consumer Protection in recent days, monitoring of social media and other websites indicates a larger number of affected consumers. 

Acting Commissioner for Consumer Protection Gary Newcombe says complaint details are needed for the matter to be investigated properly. 

“We understand people who have used Bali Indulgence have been turning up at the airport to find they have no valid ticket for the flight, arriving in Bali to discover the hotel has no record of their booking or discovering the lack of bookings prior to travel,” he said. 

“I would urge WA consumers in this situation to contact Consumer Protection on 1300 30 40 54 or consumer@commerce.wa.gov.au to discuss their options and to give us a clearer picture of the situation. 

“Anyone who has booked with Bali Indulgence or ‘Ultimate Indulgence Specialist’ Chivonne Betts and is yet to travel should confirm their bookings directly with the airline and/or accommodation provider. 

“Consumers who have made a booking using a credit card and not received what they paid for should seek a chargeback (transaction reversal) from their card provider. 

“Unfortunately those who have paid by direct bank transfer may not be able to access redress in this way, which serves as a reminder not to pay for travel services in this way. People in this situation should still speak with their bank about what options they may have. 

“It is also worth checking your travel insurance policy and speaking with your insurance provider to see whether you are covered at all.”

The story was carried by WA’s West Australian newspaper and by Australia’s national newspaper, The Australian.

The same scam has struck consumers in Queensland, apparently.

On Friday, Queensland’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) issued a similar warning, quoted below:

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is calling on consumers who have had unsatisfactory dealings with ‘Bali Indulgence’, a travel business, or its owner, Ms Chivonne Betts, to report the matter. 

OFT has received reports of consumers who may have paid for travel through Bali Indulgence only to find those payments were not passed on to the airline or hotel. 

Fair Trading Executive Director Brian Bauer said it was important for any affected consumers to come forward so that the matter could be properly investigated. 

“We are working closely with our counterparts in Western Australia, as it appears Bali Indulgence has a presence in both Queensland and WA,” Mr Bauer said. 

“Consumers have reported using Bali Indulgence to book and pay for their holiday, only to show up for a flight or book into a hotel that has no record of their booking or payment. 

“I encourage anyone who has booked through Bali Indulgence to contact the accommodation provider or airline directly to ensure their booking does exist and payments have been passed on. 

“If you haven’t received what you paid for, contact your bank or travel insurer immediately.” 

Consumers can make a complaint on the OFT website at www.fairtrading.qld.gov.au or by calling 13 QGOV (13 74 68).

Reports are flowing that a large amount of money is involved. In an even greater irony, TripAdvisor’s Bali Forum was carrying numerous posts over the weekend headed “Re: Bali Indulgence: Please book with licensed travel agents”.

One post pleaded: “PLEASE be very, very careful who you book your holiday with! There are many, many people who have set themselves up as travel agents with their own Facebook Pages and they have absolutely no licence to do so – you will have no recourse ( or will find it extremely difficult) and will not be able to get your money back if things turns sour as they have in this case. Please, please, please make sure you book only with licensed travel agents!”

While the sentiment is well meaning, mainland Australia has just got rid of travel agent licensing, a point apparently missed by those posting on TripAdvisor’s Bali Forum. Tasmania will soon follow suit on licensing after it irons out a slight procedural hitch, but Tasmania’s Department of Consumers Affairs and Fair Trading is no longer accepting applications for travel agent licences.

As an AFTA media release proclaimed last week: “Mainland Australia is free of travel agent licensing”. See: Mainland Australia Is Free Of Travel Agent Licensing.

Written by Peter Needham

Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. If money has been paid, and the travel services never booked, then a report should be made to the local police immediately with a request that the perpetrator be charged with the criminal offence of fraud.

    This is the NSW Crimes Act provision, which is similar in all States & Territories –

    Section 192E NSW Crimes Act – Fraud
    (1) A person who, by any deception, dishonestly:
    (a) obtains property belonging to another, or
    (b) obtains any financial advantage or causes any financial disadvantage,
    is guilty of the offence of fraud.
    Maximum penalty: Imprisonment for 10 years.

  2. Kimball Edwin Durand says:

    ANOTHER SCAM. Qualify Me
    Qualifyme.edu.au fails to mention that despite their promise of processing your studies after receiving the requirements, their short courses are deceptive. Imagine having YEARS of experience to start having your certification. A year definitely is not short for a short course in Australia, from Perth to Victoria, either you are an international student or a local student from those exclusive Catholic universities which do not come cheap. Online courses would be WORTHLESS. Even their chat support hotline takes too long to reply. I was bald when I started chatting. My hair is now even inches long and I got no response despite inquiring every single day!
    I don’t know where qualifyme.edu.au gets its advertising and marketing, but clearly they are anything BUT complete and their offers are as UNREIABLE as their communications.

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