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Cablegate: Argentina: Internet Travel Agency Scam in Buenos Aires

VZCZCXYZ0110
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBU #1288/01 3291643
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 251642Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0099
INFO WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS DIPL POSTS

UNCLAS BUENOS AIRES 001288

SIPDIS
DEPT FOR CA/FPP, WHA/AND, DS/ICI/CR
DEPT ALSO PASS TO KCC
POSTS FOR FRAUD PREVENTION MANAGERS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: CVIS KFRD ASEC SMIG PE AR
SUBJECT: ARGENTINA: INTERNET TRAVEL AGENCY SCAM IN BUENOS AIRES

1. SUMMARY: Between February and November 2009, Post received
eight NIV applications from Argentines who won low-fare travel
packages with Vacations724.com and related companies, who were
later charged undefined fees once the applicants provided the
companies with their credit card numbers. While we cannot identify
how extensive the scam is, our investigation suggests one owner has
set up a ring of front companies, and is making substantial money
off of marginally qualified applicants. END SUMMARY.

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How the Scam Works

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2. The duped travelers hear about Vacations724.com and related
travel agencies through advertisements on local radio shows. After
calling in and answering simple questions like, "Who is the most
famous mouse in the world?" the radio host informs the caller that
s/he has "won" a special promotional fare for travel packages
which include cruises and hotels in Kissimmee, Orlando, and Miami
and directs them to call a travel agency, which then transfers them
to a call center in the United States. While the travel agencies
have several different names, including Vacations724.com,
bueno.com, vuelas.com, Universalenlinea.com,
mundomagicoorlando.com, and Reino Magico, the Fraud Prevention Unit
(FPU) discovered that all of the websites are registered to the
same owners. Once the travelers give their credit card information
to book the promotional fare, they begin to receive undefined
charges in Mexican pesos from "My Mexicaribe." Clients usually end
up paying more for their travel package than they would if they had
purchased the services directly. The agency also charges for bogus
services like "visa letters" for the visa interview. Nonetheless
(or not completely bogus), for those travelers willing to pay the
price, it appears the agency does provide the agreed upon
reservations and services.

3. The case of Argentine traveler Carolina Millone provides one
example of how the scam works. Millone told the Fraud Prevention
Unit (FPU) that Vacations724.com offered her a promotional package,
which she promptly paid for with her credit card. She and the
company agreed on the phone that she would travel in January, but
shortly after their conversation she received a letter saying that
her travel was scheduled for December. When she responded that she
could not travel then and preferred the original dates agreed upon
in the phone call, "My Mexicaribe" charged her USD 198 to
"reactivate" her reservation because she had "cancelled her
travel" in addition to USD 448 for other "taxes and reservation
expenses." Doing her own research, Millone found that the taxes
charged were far higher than the ones stated on the hotels'
websites. After she complained, the company changed her
cancellation status to "no show" status and charged only 99 USD.
"My Mexicaribe" then charged her credit card again for undefined
expenses right before her travel date. Total charges amounted to
USD 2,146.88 over the promotional fare.

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Who is Behind the Scam?

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4. FPU has not been able to decisively determine the full scope of
the scam, but has made some initial discoveries. All of the
travel agency websites listed above are registered to Josh Schwartz
and Soledad Martinez. Soledad Martinez was also identified as "the
owner" by a Vacations724.com travel agent. Booking contracts show
that Vacations724.com is registered under license number ST25963.
However, FPU could not locate Vacations724.com or any of the other
travel agencies under that registry license number in Florida.
While Vacations724.com's letter states their address is 1717 North
Shore Drive, Miami, Google Maps shows this is a Marriott Hotel. A
Vacations724.com travel agent said their office address is 4500
Sable Palm Road in Miami. Several agents, including Sandy Rivas,
Frida Mabel, Laura Alvarez, Lourdes Cede????o, Gustavo Garcia and
Flora Herrera, respond to phone calls and emails for

Vacations724.com, but transfer calls as soon as a problem with a
client occurs. The phone numbers provided in the visa letter,
305-371-0727/7144, are registered under "Universal en Linea" at 600
NE 36th Street in Miami; but Google Maps shows no company under
that name registered at that address. According to Cecilia
Millone, a Mexican branch should be located at Avenida Playas #66
Manzana 14, Supermanzana 30, Cancun, Quintana Roo 77509, but FPU
could not find that address through Google Maps. According to FCS,
none of these travel agencies have ever participated in The
International Pow Wow, the travel industry's premier international
event in Argentina and the largest generator of Argentine travel to
the U.S.

-----------------------

Scamming Throughout WHA

-----------------------

5. It appears Vacations724.com and related agencies have actively
recruited throughout WHA, often attracting unqualified visa
applicants. A CCD text search revealed that 48 out of the 89
applicants who applied for visas in WHA consulates for
Vacations724.com trips were refused for not overcoming 214b. NIV
case comments in cases from various WHA Posts mention that
Vacations724.com trips are fraudulent. Trip Advisor, an online
travel forum, features warnings from travelers who similarly "won"
a Vacations724.com package through a radio show and subsequently
paid thousands of dollars or had credit cards charged without their
knowledge.

6. COMMENT: Constantly evolving, Vacations724.com is currently
offering radio show giveaways under the new name Reino Magico. FPU
has no reason to believe that visa applicants are complicit in the
scam. END COMMENT.

MARTINEZ
MARTINEZ

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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