A group accused of perpetrating scams across the country made a stop in the Buffalo area last week, allegedly bilking at least one local couple out of nearly $1,500.
Jen Diakakis, of Chautauqua County, said she received a letter inviting her to meet with representatives from A to Z Vacations at the Marriott Courtyard Hotel on Genesee Street in Cheektowaga last week to learn about a vacation travel club.
If she listened to their pitch, the letter said, she would receive two free round-trip plane tickets to anywhere in the country. The ticket was to be fulfilled by a voucher company called Millennium Travel.
So she and her husband showed up to hear what they had to say.
“They had all the answers and were very smooth,” Diakakis said. “But they weren’t oily smooth. They were down-home.”
They sat through a “very practiced, very professional” presentation in which salesmen described a lifetime travel membership that would snag wholesale rates for its members on airfare, hotels, rental cars and significant discounts at popular retailers. Membership pricing topped out at $9,000.
The salesmen continued to drop the price until it reached $1,490, which the Diakakises felt was an affordable price for so many perks.
“I’ve always wanted to travel, and they were saying we could get these exotic trips to Africa and all over, and we could get the same discounts for as many of our friends and family as we wanted,” Diakakis said.
But when Diakakis, who can only access the Internet at the library, went online to start researching trips and pricing, she found herself going in circles trying to navigate the website.
That’s when she tried to call the booking hotline. She couldn’t get through. She had other numbers – including one the salesman said was his personal cellphone – but none worked.
“We’ve seen a lot of these things where it’s supposed to be like you’re buying in to become your own travel agent,” said Judy Mills, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Southwestern Missouri, the last known listing for the company, which has operated under several names and cropped up in a string of cities across the country.
Mills said that she received the most recent complaint about the company Monday but that the company had stopped responding to its inquiries last June. “I just drove over to the location we had for them, and it’s now a dance studio,” Mills said.
Salesmen told Diakakis that they had been in town for four weeks, getting ready to open an office in Buffalo and that they would be working out of the hotel conference room for an additional two weeks. Calls to the hotel confirmed that they had only reserved the room for one day and had left last week.
The website RipOffReport.com lists dozens of complaints about unfulfilled “free” travel vouchers from Millennium Travel, and the Better Business Bureau has issued an alert about the company on its website, saying that its phones have been disconnected and that the BBB’s mail to the company has been returned as undeliverable.
“If you have an unresolved dispute with this company, you may wish to seek legal advice,” according to the alert on the site.
Diakakis said she has contacted the State Attorney General’s Office and is reaching out to others online who have said they’ve been burned.
As is often the case with many scam victims, Diakakis said, she is embarrassed that she was duped and was reluctant to come forward.
“But I just don’t want anyone else to get taken in by these guys,” she said.