Florida’s campaign to stop unlicensed travel insurance appears to be at a crossroads. State regulators yesterday sent a two-count notice to Vacation Superstore Network/Best Price Cruises, with the by-now familiar charges: selling travel insurance without a required license, employing agents who didn’t have the necessary paperwork, and, of course, identifying customers who were affected by the alleged purchase of unlicensed insurance.
Here’s the document (PDF).
This isn’t the first time you’ve heard the name Best Price Cruises or Vacation Superstore. Last year, authorities warned the agency and two others — Legendary Journeys and Palm Coast Travel — that it may have run afoul of state insurance statutes when it sold products offered by Prime Travel Protection. Yesterday’s “revised” notice essentially restated the state’s original charges, signaling that Florida does not intend to let the matter drop.
(Palm Coast Travel, which also does business as Smartcruiser.com, has sued a customer and me in an apparent effort to stop me from writing about it.)
So what now?
Sources close to the investigation tell me that agencies are lining up to settle with the government. Already, several companies, including Palm Coast Travel, have settled with Florida rather than face an administrative law judge. For example, Palm Coast Travel agreed to pay a $2,500 fine and agreed to probation for its role in the Prime Travel Protection scandal.
But that’s just the civil investigation. In the meantime, people familiar with this issue say there’s an ongoing criminal probe. It’s difficult to say who or what the likely target of such an investigation might be. Would it be Jerry Watson, the man behind the now-defunct Prime Travel Protection? Perhaps some of his associates and friends in the business? One of the reservations systems who distributed his policies? Or one of the large agencies that repeatedly sold Watson’s unlicensed insurance policies? (Here’s what you need to know about travel insurance.)
We do know that people are talking to investigators. We know people are asking hard questions — questions that should have been asked years ago when the first bogus insurance policies were being sold to unwitting travelers.
Exactly when the state might take action is not entirely clear. Actually, I should rephrase that: Even if I knew what the state was about to do, I wouldn’t say. Not here. It’s obvious, though, that the the Prime Travel Protection story isn’t over yet.
We’ve probably completed about half of the task. And I intend to be here to write the last chapter.