Almost everything can be done online these days – including booking airfare, hotels, and excursions.
However, there is something more personal and reassuring about planning your dream vacation with a real person – which is why travel agents haven’t become completely obsolete.
But after a recent fiasco came to light, it may make you reconsider the “trusted” travel agent and stick to secure websites as your go-to vacation planner instead.
Juan Arteaga, 58, was a trusted friend and businessman from Jacksonville whom many went to for their upcoming travel plans.
In an extremely competitive market, Arteaga always promised the best deals, and after what seemed to be days of diligently searching for your dream vacation – he’d present you with a deal you just couldn’t refuse.
Unfortunately, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
It all began in January of 2019 when Nathan Dee paid cash up-front for a family reunion cruise, reports News4Jax.
Nathan and his family went to the airport excited for their big adventure – only to find out they never had any reservations!
How could that be?!
Nathan paid Arteaga almost $14,000 for airfare and the cruise, but received nothing in return.
That’s when Nathan contacted ABC7 News Investigation Team, I-Team.
“It seems like a good, important first step,” Nathan said. “I mean, mostly wanted to make sure he was stopped from continuing to do this.”
In a devastating revelation, it was discovered that Nathan was not the only unsuspecting traveler who’d been conned with promises of incredible vacation deals.
Stories began pouring in from all over the country where individuals, couples, and families gave Arteaga thousands of dollars to book their vacation – only to be left stranded at check-in with bags packed and nowhere to go.
How could it have gotten this far?
By playing it smart.
Arteaga targeted people who lived far apart geographically and then provided them with an itinerary of their trip so no one knew the wiser until it was the big day.
Jaime Rowe from Pennsylvania had planned an epic vacation to Italy with her friends and had wired Arteaga $12,000 just two days before news broke of his deceptive practices!
News4Jax reports on how she had to give the devastating news to her friends:
“You know, I have to call my friends and say, I just had a guy steal our money. We can’t go.”
Many people save for years to be able to take an international vacation – and in a matter of minutes, Arteaga took it all away.
By the time he was caught, nearly three years later, Arteaga had acquired almost $800,000 in travel scams.
Thankfully, after the I-Team’s investigation, Arteaga was brought to justice and now faces “up to 20 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, and up to three years of supervised release,” reports News4Jax. A date for sentencing has not yet been set.
Hey, travel snafus happen – like getting stranded on a tropical island because flights have been cancelled due to the pandemic. But that is totally different from someone stealing thousands of your hard-earned dollars to fatten their own pockets.
In fact, thousands of people have been scammed since the pandemic by individuals posing as travel agents, as Proud American Traveler has previously warned, with the Federal Trade Commission reporting over $13.4 million being lost to victims of travel fraud.
So how can you avoid being taken for every penny by someone who appears, by all standards, to be a legitimate travel agent?
Look for any online reviews of said travel agent and check to see if they’re a member of the American Society of Travel Agents.
Travelsense.org is a great resource to find verified travel agents along with customer reviews.
And going with an agent who is local and whom you can meet in person is much safer as well.
Scammers are very good at what they do and know how to say all the right things to get you to trust them, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you’ve fallen victim to a scammer like Arteaga.
And if you still prefer to use a travel agent, there’s nothing wrong with that either! Just be sure to follow our tips above.
But know that there are also tried-and-true – and secure – options like Expedia (if you don’t mind using automated customer service) out there for all your travel needs.
Sure, as annoying as speaking (yelling) to an automated machine can be – we can promise you that discovering you’ve lost all your money to a vacation that doesn’t exist is much, much worse.