Sioux Falls, SD
Did you get a travel expo postcard in the mail?
Sioux Falls residents recently received a postcard for the Southwest Getaways Expo.
It's almost identical to a postcard residents got this summer, only in that case the man selling travel clubs was arrested for not following South Dakota law.
This latest offer to buy into a travel club may say "Southwest Getaways," but it has nothing to do with Southwest Airlines.
KELOLAND News investigates what happens if you go to the high-pressure sales presentation.
While the organizer of the last travel club to come to town, John Barze, is currently facing felony charges in South Dakota, this latest company says it isn't associated with Barze.
It's vacation season and who doesn't want a break on travel costs? Some travel clubs make a lot of promises to get you deals on everything from hotels to flights, but they can also require a hefty fee to join.
Our KELOLAND News investigation showed you how the man behind an out-of-state travel club got in trouble with the law when he came to South Dakota to sell memberships. John Barze of Florida didn't offer consumers the three-day right to cancel as required by law.
However, consumers and the Better Business Bureau are questioning the high-pressure sales tactics used by a Pennsylvania company called Best Value Getaways, which spent last week selling travel clubs out of a hotel in Sioux Falls.
What our investigation uncovered raises plenty of red flags.
After sending out this postcard, salespeople spent last week pitching the travel club to people at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Sioux Falls.
"It sounded kind of good," Hupke said.
Carlton Hupke recently retired and he and his wife are planning to travel more. Hupke was told they could save up to $2,000 per trip by joining the travel club.
"I did the math and you could do 2-3 trips and you've paid for your membership fee and from there it's savings," Hupke said.
But Hupke wasn't ready to fork over nearly $4,000 just yet. He wanted to take a closer look at all the fine print in the contract.
"I said I'm not going to read all this. I want to take it home with me. They said well you can't do that and I said well then we're done," Hupke said.
So Hupke went home and Googled Southwest Getaways Expo.
"Pages and pages of people complaining; talking what a big scam they were; they didn't live up to anything they'd promised," Hupke said.
Hupke went to Sioux Falls Police, who referred him to the Better Business Bureau. Jessie Schmidt of the BBB says the first thing that struck her was all the different companies listed in the promotional material.
It may say Southwest Getaways on the Postcard, but Best Value Travel who has this West Pittston, Pennsylvania address, is selling the memberships to the travel club, SaveOnResorts.com.
"It's really quite challenging to figure out who's who in all of this. It just seemed like a big shell game to me," Schmidt said.
The free travel vouchers for attending the sales pitch are through FunRewardsForYou, which is a California business called The Redemption Center.
We found consumer complaints against FunRewardsForYou.com going back to 2010 and the Better Business Bureau gives the company a D rating.
"It's very difficult to redeem these free travel vouchers that actually cost you $250 per person," Schmidt said.
After hearing Hupke's story, Schmidt decided to go hear the sales presentation for herself.
"It's very high pressure. As I was looking over the documents and contracts and the gentleman is 12-18 inches from you. I asked him if I could just have time to read documents--sure and he sits back in chair," Schmidt said.
Schmidt managed to snap a picture of that salesman. Then she tried to take a video of the contract she was shown.
"I was trying to take a picture of it and he came around the desk and saw that and right away folded up the paper; said I'll be back to get you your free travel voucher--you're out of here," Schmidt said.
KELOLAND News Investigates was able to reach one of the Pennsylvania sales people by phone after they'd already left town. When she asked Randy Brown why he wouldn't give anyone a copy of the travel club contract he said that would be stupid before someone signed it.
Brown said, "There isn't a company in the world that will let someone walk out with blank contracts. He went on to say, “Walk into a furniture store and say can I walk out of here with an installment contract without doing business with you? Walk into a car dealership. No one is going to let you walk out with a blank contract."
Well Randy Brown, KELOLAND News Investigates called local appliance and furniture stores and a car dealership and they all told her customers can take their contracts home to look them over before signing them.
The South Dakota Attorney General's office is investigating this company and would like to see a copy of that contract to determine whether or not it truly follows South Dakota law.
If you purchased a membership in this travel club, you're asked to call the Office of Consumer Protection at 1-800-300-1986.
A Florida man accused of breaking the law while selling travel clubs in Sioux Falls has been arrested and brought back to the state to face charges. John Barze is accused of selling an elderly couple a travel club membership for $6,000. But the contract they signed did not have South Dakota's mandatory three-day right to cancel.
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