The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters tracked down a local travel group amid a complaint that they take thousands of dollars from customers without offering any actual benefits.
In 2010, Jeff Dubins, of Mystic, was drawn to an opportunity to travel at a discount through the nearby group, Triton Travel. He attended a presentation at Triton Travel’s former office, where, he said, a high-pressure salesman assured him he would save big on vacations around the world by becoming a member.
“I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think it was a good deal,” Dubins said.
He agreed to pay $6,500, plus an annual renewal of $250 — money he never would’ve spent had he seen the red flags.
“I went to use them,” Dubins said. “I had called them for a hotel in New York, and it was actually $2 more through them — using my rewards points — than if I were to call the hotel by myself.”
Consumer attorney Dan Blinn said he has heard stories similar to Dubins’.
“I went to one of those sales pitches once,” Blinn said. “They know a lot about consumer psychology and the types of things that’ll make people make decisions that, upon calmer reflection, they might later regret.”
Dubins decided he wanted to cancel his membership, but every attempt to contact Triton Travel has fallen short. The company’s website doesn’t list a phone number and says they no longer do business, even though Dubins still receives the bills.
The Connecticut Secretary of State’s office said Triton Travel left the state in July 2011, and connected the business to a man named Charles Caliri, of Vermont.
The Troubleshooters called Caliri and he confirmed he is affiliated with Triton Travel, but he wouldn’t elaborate, and then he hung up.
In 2010, the Massachusetts Attorney General accused Caliri of unfair and deceptive marketing and sales tactics for a vacation club that offered “Few — if any — of the benefits promised.”
He was found in contempt of court after violating a restraining order by hiding financial disclosures and withdrawing almost half a million dollars from accounts he maintained. As a result, he had to pay $310,000 in civil penalties.
Then, in 2014, Caliri and his business partners settled for $200,000 and were permanently banned from selling any more vacation club memberships in Massachusetts.
So far, no one in Connecticut has filed suit.
“Sometimes the violations are hard to prove,” said Blinn. “Frequently, the fraud and deception are part of the oral presentation but not necessarily in the written documents.”
He add that it’s a lesson in hindsight.
“If someone has a very strong interest in selling something and it’s a legitimate deal, then the deal is going to be there tomorrow and it’s a safe thing to walk away from,” said Blinn.
Dubins just received the bill for his annual $250 fee, due by Dec. 4.
“I don’t understand why they keep bothering me if I said I don’t want to pay,” Dubins said.
And he doesn’t have to. His contract has a clause saying, “This agreement shall immediately terminate” if the renewal fee is not paid within 60 days.
Still, Dubins said he will fight to get his money back.
“People who take advantage of other people should be ashamed of themselves,” Dubins said. “If you’re smart enough and creative enough to be able to do this, why don’t you put it to some good?”