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.
Florida regulators today filed a revised notice of intent to issue a cease and desist order against Legendary Journeys, a Sarasota, Fla., travel agency, as part of its investigation into Prime Travel Protection. It appears to be the state’s biggest action against a single company, with 17 counts and half a million dollars in outstanding claims, according to a government report. Here’s the order (PDF). Unlike some of the other agencies affected by this scandal, Legendary Journeys has been candid about its role and eager to face its critics. So I asked Al Ferguson, a vice president at Legendary Journeys, to answer a few questions.
Why do you think the state decided to revise its intent to issue a cease and desist today?
The intent is unclear. I think there is even conflicting opinion in Tallahassee on this.
We have complied on anything asked and submitted a mountain of paperwork to support everything that occurred. The revision is the same notice [we received a year ago] to not sell Prime Travel Protection policies. We stopped doing that six months before the first intent was issued.
““Like everyone, we need the state to take action against Prime Travel Protection””
It’s our turn.
Almost three months after filing a lawsuit against one of its customers and me, our lawyers have answered Palm Coast Travel’s charges in two separate motions for dismissal.
Here’s Peter Lay’s motion (PDF); here’s mine (PDF).
“Motions to dismiss Palm Coast Travel lawsuit filed with court”
Looks like Palm Coast Travel, the Boca Raton, Fla., agency accused by the state of Florida of selling unauthorized travel insurance, while at the same time trying to sue one of its own customers and me into silence, has quietly negotiated a settlement with insurance regulators.
Under the agreement (PDF), which was signed today, Palm Coast Travel, which also does business online as Smartcruiser.com, has agreed to cease and desist selling unauthorized insurance and will pay a $2,500 fine as well as restitution to its customers affected by the purchase of an unauthorized insurance policy. It will be placed on 18 months’ probation and has agreed not to sell unauthorized insurance in the future.
The consent order is practically identical to a draft settlement agreement (PDF) that has been circulating between Palm Coast Travel and insurance regulators since last summer, and which I obtained after filing a public records request.
“Palm Coast Travel fined $2,500 and placed on probation for selling unauthorized travel insurance”
Florida regulators this morning cracked down on two more travel agencies as part of their expanding investigation into illegal travel insurance. It brings the total number of companies charged with selling fake travel insurance to seven since January. More enforcement actions are believed to be on the way.
Notices of intent to issue a cease and desist orders were filed against Atlantis International Limited, a St. Petersburg, Fla., travel agency, and Cruises R Us of Plantation, Fla., which also used the name Cruisequick.com.
Cruisequick is familiar to readers of this site. A few years ago, it allegedly sold another unauthorized travel policy to reader Don Filiault. His insurance company, Trip Assured, was later hit with a cease and desist order issued by several states, including California and Florida.
“Palm Coast Travel gets more company as regulators crack down on Cruises R Us, Atlantis International”
Looks like Palm Coast Travel has company. Florida regulators have filed charges against three more travel agencies as part of their expanding probe of unlicensed insurance offered through defunct Prime Travel Protection. (Two more agencies were added to the list at the end of today; see update at the end of this post.)
Ahoy Cruises of Jacksonville, Fla., JB Travel of Boynton Beach, Fla., and St. Lucie West Travel of Port St. Lucie, Fla., are accused by the state’s Department of Financial Services of violating several insurance-related statues — or, put differently, of selling fake travel insurance.
This is an important story, because bogus “trip protection” policies are known to have been sold to people across the country for years, potentially costing travelers millions of dollars in lost vacations.
“Florida accuses three more travel agencies — wait, make that five more agencies — of selling unlicensed insurance”
Florida’s Department of Financial Services is in the early stages of a far-reaching investigation into the activities of Palm Coast Travel and its affiliated companies, according to documents released this week under the state’s Public Records Act.
The documents also raise new questions about the relationship between Access America, the largest travel insurance company in the world, and Palm Coast Travel, which also does business online as Smartcruiser.com.
In a prepared statement, Access America yesterday suggested its current and future relationship with Palm Coast, which is accused of selling unlicensed insurance, is an internal matter.
“Thus far we have been contacted by both customers identified in the Florida investigation and we are working to resolve each matter appropriately,” a spokesman said. “Access America will continue to take steps consistent with providing ongoing care for its customers.”
“What was Palm Coast Travel doing with its Access America policies?”