“I’m contacting you before we do something stupid,” writes Sarah Smith, whose is mulling an offer for two “complimentary” airline tickets.
“Sounds way too good to be true,” she added. “Is it?”
Well, anyone who gives away “free” airline tickets is either running a scam or they’re stupid, and after I read the offer, it wasn’t too hard to figure out which one it was.
Here’s the offer, which was addressed to her husband, Hank:
You have been selected to receive 2 complimentary round-trip airline tickets on American, Southwest, United or other major airline, plus a 3-day/2-night hotel getaway at a Marriott, Hyatt or Hilton hotel powered by trivago.com.
BONUS! Call within 72 hours and you’ll also receive a 3-day Rent-a-car for your trip and a $50 Travel Cash Gift Card frorn Fly.com, Orbitz, Expedia, Vayama or VISA.
Call Toll-free: 1-844-837-9742 Offer: 1673845
R M Williams
PS: We have attempted contacting you several times. This is our last attempt.
The letter prominently displays the logos of Fly.com, Orbitz, Expedia and Vayama.
I sent a quick note to a contact at one of the companies listed to see if they’d sent out one of these mailers.
The answer? No.
“Go to the bottom disclaimer,” my source added.
Ah, I almost forgot. The disclaimer, which is barely visible on my scan.
Limited time offer. Void where prohibited by law, certain conditions apply – call for complete details.
Travel will be provided through one or more of: Fly.com, Orbitz, Expedia, Vayama, Trivago, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, Hilton Hotels, Marriott Hotels or Hyatt Hotels.
Any trademarks are used for illustrative purposes, and remain property of their respective owners.
Did I just read that right? Did they say “illustrative purposes”?
Yep. So those travel agency logos are just like pictures in a book. They’re not meant to describe anything real, and they’re not used with permission.
Seems like they’re misappropriating the logos of well-known companies to lure recipients into what is probably a high-pressure presentation for a sales club.
And you know what? It works. Smith knows that this is a likely scam, but there’s something telling her, “What if it isn’t? What if I just passed up an opportunity to fly somewhere for free?”
I told her to run.
The travel company I contacted to verify the authenticity of the offer has referred her notice to its legal department. I agreed not to name the company so it wouldn’t endanger any potential legal proceedings, but really, all of the companies named should be concerned.
Illustrative purposes? Come on.
But there’s an important takeaway for the rest of us, too. No, it’s not that legitimate offers can’t also look too good to be true, because they certainly can. It’s that even scammers have lawyers, and they insist their clients add fine print to their iffy offers. Those little details can tip you off to a timeshare club that might not be on the up-and-up.
There’s also this: In their efforts to look “credible” they also fail to do their research. For example, two of the companies mentioned — Orbitz and Trivago — don’t have a business relationship in the United States. Smith wouldn’t have known that, but an insider would have picked up on it. That might have raised some suspicions.
Scams that promise “free” tickets don’t just prey on our innate desire for a deal. They also take advantage of our ignorance. (And by “we,” I mean mine, too. I had to do some digging before I figured out how unlikely this offer was, and Smith even wouldn’t have known to look.) Scammers assume we read and accept our mail at face value.