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Frank Gray

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Pitch free air-travel ticket offer and avoid sales pitch

For at least a couple of years now, households in Fort Wayne have been getting letters telling them that they had won airline tickets worth from $1,200 to $1,400 or so to fly anywhere in the United States.

To get the tickets, though, you had to call a toll-free number right away, or someone else would get them.

Not to get off the subject, but my wife once bought a bag of sugar that was full of black specks, so she wrote the sugar company and complained, hoping to get some free sugar. All she got was a letter saying “sorry.”

The point is, nobody sends people free stuff, not bags of sugar, and certainly not airline tickets.

So I wondered how these letters from US Airlines, which doesn’t exist, by the way, worked.

A handful of people had forwarded their letters to me, including one man who was upset that police brushed it off when he reported what he thought was a scam and told him to throw the letter away. Every letter, by the way, was signed by a different vice president, all females, and they all had different toll-free numbers to call.

So I decided to see just what you would get if you called the 866 numbers listed on the letters.

I didn’t get much, just a recording saying I had reached the awards division, followed by a bunch of recorded music and a professional-sounding woman’s voice asking me to please hold because “all of our associates are assisting other callers.”

I called the different numbers at a handful of different times over a couple of days and never did get to talk to a human.

This all left me a little befuddled. How is a scammer going to scam me if he won’t answer the phone?

I finally decided to call the Better Business Bureau to see what they knew about this.

Apparently, if you call the toll-free number and manage to get an answer, you are invited to attend a seminar for something called a travel club.

Once at the seminar, according to news reports from around the country, they won’t let you in if you don’t have a credit card.

And then comes the pitch. People try to get you to join a private travel club that promises to offer you fantastic travel deals.

According to Marjorie Stephens of the Better Business Bureau in Fort Wayne, though, it isn’t cheap. One woman who attended a seminar, Stephens said, was told a lifetime membership in the travel club was $10,000.

You can do a lot of traveling for $10,000.

The woman balked, Stephens said, and eventually the price for a membership was trimmed to $4,000.

It’s not clear whether that woman or anyone in the area has fallen for the pitch, but Stephens said people who have bought memberships have complained that they don’t get any better travel deals than they could find themselves. It’s also not clear whether anyone actually gets those free airline tickets talked about in the letter, she said.

I guess the lesson is, ignore letters from airlines that don’t exist, don’t expect free stuff in the mail, and be wary of seminars.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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