This is part two of a two-part story.
Fraud is nothing new in any industry. Travel agents can be the victims of fraud, as well as the perpetrators.
One travel agent who requested anonymity told Travel Market Report her tale of hiring someone she “thought was the perfect agent”— until she discovered “he was going home every night and looking at every PNR and putting in his personal bonus mileage numbers!” He collected millions of miles over the years that he used for personal business-class trips until he began selling the tickets he bought with those miles to his friends.
“A bounce-back from an email raised flags,” she said. “We almost had to pay over $100,000 in debit memos! Then he had clients making out personal checks mailed to him for trips that he booked through the agency. Impossible to track...a nightmare! And he's still in travel!”
Another agent told Travel Market Report of a run-in she had with Denyse Turner about 18 months ago, when Turner posted on the travel agent Facebook boards that she was getting out of the general business and was looking for agents to whom he could turn over her client base.
During the interview, “as I recall, she asked me things like: how long does it take me to respond back to clients with a quote, do I charge a fee, how do I communicate with clients, how do I present final documents, and what kind of follow up do I do? About two days later, I got a message from a fellow agent who recognized my voice on a training audio posted online. Apparently, Ms. Turner had recorded me not with the intention of handing clients over and stepping away from her business, but to enhance her business and use my call, recorded without my consent, to train her subagents.”
When confronted, she said her husband had just died and she was just trying to keep her head above water and grow her business. “At that point I told her I had consulted with my attorney and if she did not comply, I had my attorney at the ready to move forward with a lawsuit. She got the picture and as I understand from the agent who recognized my voice, all recordings were deleted.”
Turner tells her story
Reached by Travel Market Report regarding this story, Turner emailed the following comment, which is printed here in its entirety:
“I appreciate the opportunity to offer a statement in response to my recent legal challenges. Let me begin by saying yes, some things happened — through no real fault of my own — and I have taken full responsibility for my actions and non-actions. I have also repented.
“There was a supplier-created situation that occurred during this time. My husband was hospitalized in a critical state. He was my concern, as I'm sure any spouse would have been. I informed my group leaders and promised to follow up as necessary. I also promised to repay if anything was negligent on my part. Unfortunately, my kindergarten sweetheart transitioned. He was my world for 37 years and that, then, was my main concern. This started a whole new season for me which is very hard.
"My issue is that people have castrated me without even knowing any details. I worked very hard in the industry to maintain integrity and a good name for myself and my agency. They are also lying. One agent said I spoke with him about being an IC. I can prove that this is untrue with an inbox with no messages and email account with no emails. Furthermore, as a YTBer, I was already working with a female host before I departed YTB. I also want someone to prove that I am still selling travel.
"These are the things that sadden me most. I've been a Christian my entire life and was married to a pastor for 37 years. There is no way that I would intentionally hurt, harm or injure anyone. I was the one harmed in this situation. People understand karma in all situations. I don't believe in karma but God’s laws are real. When you judge others, it will come back to you and you will reap what you sow. That's for me as well as others. I've already repented and have been forgiven. What about you? 'He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."
She added that "bookings were made and in process. There was a supplier error that was made (supplier could not figure out how some bookings were eliminated from their system and others weren't). I later found out this was common (with this supplier) as it also happened to my long-time mentor in the industry. That error happened in the midst of everything else that was going on with my husband. I was his care coordinator. I just did not have the presence of mind to deal with it as it would have been dealt with had I not been going through what I was. Call it neglect; it may have been. But it was certainly not intentional neglect. There was no ‘stealing,’ no ‘fraud’ and no ‘lying’ on my part. I admit, the situation became messy but so did my whole life."
Consumers and agents can protect themselves
In the end, none of us can judge what exactly happened in the Turner case. But there are many cases of fraud every year, and it is important for consumers to choose a travel agent they can trust. Susan Alpert Wolfson of Go Astro Travel LLC counseled that, “if clients want to avoid falling victim to unscrupulous agents they should only pay by credit or debit card and they should make sure the payment is processed through the vendor and not the agency.”
But many travel agents pointed out that there are numerous reasons for them to pay suppliers directly and then bill customers. “We package trips and in order to add amenities in, we do take payments through our merchant account,” said Beth Malloch Schulberg of Cruise Holidays. “Please don't let one bad apple spoil it for everyone. I know from first-hand experience that the law of averages says there will be some in this business who rob from Peter to pay Paul. But that isn't the case for most of us.
"Thirteen years ago it cost me $35,000 to bail out another travel agency franchise with the same name to avoid the entire franchise being tarnished. She avoided being prosecuted and for that $35,000 she closed her doors and I took over her business. She had a strong business for a lot of years. Just was not a good business manager and it got away from her.”
ASTA offers verified agent certification program
Meanwhile, ASTA is addressing the issue in another way. At the ASTA Global conference earlier this month, it launched a new program “to build member knowledge about legal and ethical issues and boost consumer trust in ASTA agents.”
The ASTA Verified Travel Advisor (VTA) certification program offers nine courses on topics like “Ethics for Travel Advisors,” “Legal Overview for the Travel Agency Industry,” “Agency Relationships and the Law,” and “U.S. Travel Agency Regulatory Compliance, 3rd Edition.”
The curriculum looks closely at ASTA’s code of ethics “and instructs agents about the way you must approach certain situations,” ASTA general counsel Peter Lobasso said as the program was rolled out. “People think they have a sense of what the right thing to do is. We flesh it out and provide examples of what they should be doing.”
ASTA will aggressively market the certification program to members and nonmembers and to consumers, ASTA CEO and president Zane Kerby said.
For more information on the program go to the ASTA website.