Hello…you have been specially selected to receive our SPECTACULAR LUXURY DREAM VACATION offer!
Have you ever been tempted to sign up to win a `free` trip at a fair, trade show or restaurant? If so, you may get a phone call, letter, unsolicited fax, email or postcard telling you that you’ve won a vacation. Be careful. It may be a `trip trap.` The vacation that you’ve `won` likely isn’t free. And the `bargain-priced` travel package you’re offered over the telephone or Internet may not fit your idea of luxury.
While some travel opportunities sold over the phone or offered through the mail, Internet or by fax are legitimate, many are scams that defraud consumers out of millions of dollars each month.
The word `offer` can be a clue to hidden charges. When you get the phone call, or place the call in response to a postcard, letter, fax or Internet ad, you also get a sales pitch for a supposedly luxurious trip – one that you could pay dearly for.
The salesperson may ask for your credit card number to bill your account for the travel package. Once you pay, you receive the details of the `package,` which usually include instructions for making trip reservation requests. Your request often must be accompanied by yet another fee. In addition, many offers require you to pay upgrade costs to receive the actual destinations, accommodations, cruises or dates you were promised. Some offers may require you to pay more for port charges, hotel taxes or service fees.
See a pattern developing? New charges are being added every step of the way. You may never get your `bargain` trip because your reservations may not be confirmed or because you must comply with hard-to-meet hidden or expensive `conditions.`
Telemarketing travel scams usually originate out of `boiler rooms.` Skilled salespeople, often with years of experience selling dubious products and services over the phone, pitch travel packages that may sound legitimate, but often are not. These pitches usually include:
Oral Misrepresentations. Particular schemes vary, but all fraudulent telemarketers promise you a `deal` they can’t possibly deliver. Unfortunately, you won’t know it until your money’s gone.
High Pressure/Time Pressure Tactics. Scam operators often say they need your commitment to buy immediately or that the offer won’t be available much longer. They typically brush aside questions or concerns with vague answers or assurances.
`Affordable` Offers. Unlike fraudulent telemarketers who try to persuade people to spend thousands of dollars on an investment scheme, fraudulent travel telemarketers usually pitch club membership or vacation offers in a lower price range. The offers sound reasonable and are designed to appeal to anyone who is looking for a getaway.
Contradictory Follow-up Material. Some companies may agree to send you written confirmation of your deal. However, it usually bears little resemblance to the offer you accepted over the phone. The written materials often disclose additional terms, conditions and costs.
How To Protect Yourself
Unpleasant surprises can ruin a vacation, especially when they cost money. That’s why it pays to investigate a travel package before you buy. But it can be difficult to tell a legitimate sales pitch from a fraudulent one. Consider these travelers’ advisories:
Be wary of `great deals` and low-priced offers. Few legitimate businesses can afford to give away products and services of real value or substantially undercut other companies’ prices.
Don’t be pressured into buying. A good offer today usually will be a good offer tomorrow. Legitimate businesses don’t expect you to make snap decisions.
Ask detailed questions. Find out exactly what the price covers and what it doesn’t. Ask about additional charges. Get the names of the hotel, airports, airlines and restaurants included in your package. Consider contacting these businesses directly to verify arrangements. Ask about cancellation policies and refunds. If the salesperson can’t give you detailed answers, hang up.
If you decide to buy, find out the name of the travel provider – the company that is getting your reservations and tickets. This company usually is not the telemarketer.
Get all information in writing before you agree to buy. Once you receive the written information, make sure it reflects what you were told over the phone and the terms you agreed to.
Don’t buy part of the package – the air fare or hotel stay – separately from the rest. If the deal is not what you expected, it may be difficult to get your money back for the part of the package you purchased.
Don’t give your credit card number or bank information over the phone unless you know the company. One easy way for a scam operator to close a deal is to get your credit card number and charge your account. Sometimes fraudulent telemarketers say they need the number for verification purposes only. Don’t believe them.
Don’t send money by messenger or overnight mail. Some scam artists may ask you to send them a check or money order immediately. Others may offer to send a messenger to pick up your payment. If you pay with cash or a check, rather than a credit card, you lose your right to dispute fraudulent charges under the Fair Credit Billing Act. If you charged your trip to a credit card, you may dispute the charges by writing to your credit card issuer at the address provided for billing disputes. If possible, do this as soon as you receive your statement. In any case, the law gives you up to 60 days after the bill’s statement date to dispute the charge.
Check out the company before you buy. Contact the Attorney General in your state or where the company is located to see if any complaints have been lodged against the travel firm or the travel provider. Be aware that fraudulent businesses often change their names to avoid detection.
If in doubt, say `no.` Trust your instincts. It’s less risky to turn down the offer and hang up the phone.
Where to Complain
Several organizations can provide additional information and help you with complaints.
Your state Attorney General or the Attorney General in the state where the company is located probably has a division that deals with consumer protection issues.
The American Society of Travel Agents, Consumer Affairs, at 1101 King Street, Alexandria,VA 22314, may be able to mediate your dispute with an ASTA member.
The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
Beyond the hype, a dirty side of Da Lat
Most of this is true, but that’s not the only local reality where things get pretty ugly, too. Unless this reality is recognized and seriously addressed, Da Lat will lose its charm and become a shadow of itself.
Here’s an unflattering picture of the other side.
When walking or running on a sidewalk around Xuan Huong Lake in Da Lat in the early morning, at a certain point you can no longer stay on the sidewalk. One is forced to walk or run into the street as there can be up to ten street kitchens completely blocking sidewalk access. Going out on a street at night can be a bit dangerous as there are quite a number of drunk drivers on the road at night, some driving at speeds well in excess of 120km/h.
These street vendors sell food and drink in plastic bowls and cups. Plastic waste is scattered about a hundred meters in front of and behind their stands. Food and drink thrown away or spilled on sidewalks and streets is a common sight.
Because food safety isn’t monitored regularly, or because people might be very drunk, it’s also not uncommon to see vomit on sidewalks. Open stool and urination is a regular occurrence in the early hours of the morning.
There are many signs along the lake advising that making fires is forbidden, but the street vendors completely ignore them. Many tourists from warmer parts of Vietnam easily come to Da Lat in shorts and T-shirts, despite the colder weather. Street vendors want these visitors to stay warm so they stay longer and buy more food and drink. Sidewalks are often blackened with ash from these staying-warm fires.
When I was photographing these fires, a street vendor threatened to stab me with scissors several times. Some vendors started throwing rocks. A man tried to grab my walking stick and the cell phone I use to take pictures. I reported these incidents to the police but they took no action.
These charcoal fires release many deadly toxins such as PM2.5, carbon monoxide and benzene. When street vendors run out of charcoal, some start burning plastic waste. Burning plastic waste releases dioxins and other highly toxic substances. A piece of dioxin the size of a grain of rice is enough to poison a million people.
To keep their customers happy, some street vendors sell beer and other alcoholic beverages. Some install large speakers so their customers can sing and make lots of noise when they get totally drunk. Not infrequently, the karaoke singing continues until 4 a.m. and can be heard up to two miles away. Although the law prohibits singing karaoke after 10:30 p.m., this law is not enforced around Xuan Huong Lake. Once I heard karaoke singing in three different places around the lake, all blaring at the same time.
Almost everything I have described so far represents laws that are constantly being broken. But why don’t street vendors and their customers obey the law when it’s clearly stated on signs in the area?
The answer is simple.
Laws are not enforced. I have more than 12,000 pictures on my files of breaking the law in this city that gets dirty and ugly quite often, but I didn’t see a fine being issued when I called the police to intervene — not once.
A policeman explained it to me in a somewhat pompous way. If the police consistently enforce laws, it would infuriate many people, and with many angry people out and about, the country’s stability would be undermined and civil unrest could ensue.
The same officer went on to explain that if the police strictly enforce the law, things could get out of hand very quickly. People could become violent, and if the police hit back to defend themselves, controversy would ensue.
With a huge police force and militia, Vietnam has everything it needs to counter the violence and maintain political stability. So what’s the problem?
For many years, the police in Division 8 themselves have blatantly flouted the laws about dumping trash, throwing cigarette butts on the ground, and burning garbage. They even ran a fire pit on police property.
How can the police enforce laws when they themselves break them all the time?
On October 31, I informed a senior police officer in Da Lat that I have over 12,000 pictures of people breaking laws – laws related to setting fires on sidewalks, burning trash, dumping trash, dumping of waste and fishing in the filthy waters of Da Lat Xuan Huong Lake and its stinking lagoons, singing karaoke until 4 a.m., binge drinking, drunk driving, high speed motorcycle racing and so on.
I was surprised when he explained that I should not photograph people breaking the law unless their lawlessness directly impacted my safety and well-being.
Surely it is every citizen’s duty to record violations of the law and report them to law enforcement?
Even when someone threatened me with violence, he advised me not to take photos and to report the person to the police unless I had stab wounds or other injuries.
I was stunned.
I think the government needs to be much more serious about enforcing its most basic safety and environmental laws. If it doesn’t, it won’t be able to tackle far bigger things like the impact of global warming, carbon neutrality and sustainable development.
Photos by Paul A. Olivier of public waste in Da Lat:
*Paul A. Olivier is an American expat living and working in Da Lat.
How two Hyderabadi 3D artists are popularizing city’s flyovers, roads, buildings at global level
Hyderabad: For most of us, photography means clicking photos of a beautiful sunset, landscape or people. But Laxman Pithani and Nikhil Chakravarthy from Hyderabad are crazy about new buildings, roads, highways, flyovers and other infrastructure projects in the city.
“When you’re driving on a newly constructed freeway, with not many vehicles and hardly anyone to stop you or ask you anything, you have a kind of absolute freedom. We both enjoy it,” says Nikhil.
Laxman and Nikhil jointly run a Twitter and YouTube page, Traveling with Laxman, where they post videos and photos of newly constructed or inaugurated flyovers, roads and buildings. They have released drone footage of the Uppal SkyWalk project, the renovated Yadagirigutta Temple, Gandipet Park, the Biodiversity Flyover and more.
Laxman (left) and Nikhil (right) at the recently inaugurated Shilpa layout transition
Her most recent work was the transition of the Shilpa layout. When the city witnessed their first Formula E racing event, they were there to capture the track on which the race took place. On their Twitter Page Travel with Laxman, they have around 2,806 followers and on their youtube Page they have around 57,000 subscribers.
Transition of the Shilpa layout
It’s not about the end product. But Laxman and Nikhil began pursuing infrastructure projects in the city from the start. “If there are upcoming projects, we consult the person concerned and get detailed information about it. We shoot it from start to finish,” says Laxman.
In this way, it helps the audience to keep up to date with the progress of these projects.
When Laxman met Nikhil
Laxman is originally from Hyderabad but Nikhil is from Tenali in Andhra Pradesh. He moved to Hyderabad in 2002. Both met in 2007 in an animation institute `Arena; where they served as 3D training faculty. Here they taught the students how to use animation techniques in films and character forms. They later moved on to teach interior design at the same institute. In 2015 they both joined Custom Furnish, a company specializing in interior design, where they worked as 3D artists. In 2019, Nikhil left and Laxman continued for another year and a half before retiring in 2021.
Durgam Cheruvu Bridge
Ever since they met, they have discovered their shared passion for travel. Your definition of travel sounds very unique and interesting. “We both love to explore unknown roads. I can drive straight for 10 hours without thinking about the destination. We used to always discover new roads, overpasses, buildings, etc. on such trips, which fascinated us a lot. Each specific destination where nobody bothered us gave us a different kind of freedom,” explains Nikhil.
Until December 2021, Laxman and Nikhil were doing this as a part-time job. But in December 2021 both resigned and started doing so full-time.
Her work is now also being recognized by the Telangana government, which is asking for her help in getting photos of some of the infrastructure projects in the city.
Command and Control Center, Banjara Hills
Development in Hyderabad
Both Laxman and Nikhil say the pace of development in Hyderabad has been very fast compared to other cities. “I was born here, so I’m really excited to see the city developing at this pace,” says Laxman. Nikhil adds: “Something happens every week that it just can’t keep up with this speed. For example, the other day when the Shilpa layout flyover was inaugurated, on the same day Skyroot Aerospace’s private rocket was launched from Sriharikota.”
transfer of biodiversity
In addition to updating townspeople on the development, Travel with Laxman now allows many expatriate Hyderabadis to regain their lost connection with the city. “We have people calling from places like the United States and telling us they’re excited about how their city is doing,” says Laxman.
Renovated Yadadrigutta Temple
The duo are happy to be able to fill this gap faced by Hyderabadis living elsewhere.
Wedding of the week: Lovebirds elope on a Balinese beach following three months of top secret planning
Jamie Hart, 36, and Daniel Sutton, 44
Western Australian senior graphic designer Jamie and welder Daniel always knew their wedding should be small and intimate, but they also wanted an element of surprise.
The couple, who met online in March 2021, had planned a trip to Indonesia and made the spur of the moment decision to elope because why not? They were too excited to wait a year to tie the knot, so they turned their engagement party into a secret wedding celebration.
After legally signing the papers at The Old Tower House in Perth a week earlier, Jamie and Daniel said ‘yes, I do’ in Bali, with Daniel honorably taking Jamie’s maiden name, Hart.
When and where
The big day took place on October 22, 2022 on the white sandy beaches of the Nusa Dua Beach Hotel & Spa.
Jamie’s dress of choice, Morilee, was by New York bridal designer Madeline Gardner.
There was no need to travel to their honeymoon destination as the newlyweds were already there! They celebrated in Nusa Dua, Ubud, Seminyak and Canggu.
If you would like to be featured, send your wedding details and high resolution photos to [email protected]
Add details about when, where, dress information, honeymoon and anything that made your big day special!
- Beyond the hype, a dirty side of Da Lat
- How two Hyderabadi 3D artists are popularizing city’s flyovers, roads, buildings at global level
- Wedding of the week: Lovebirds elope on a Balinese beach following three months of top secret planning
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