Travel Agent Organizations Issue Consumer Warning on 'Card Mills'

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Travel Industry Organizations warn consumers on the increase in phony offers to sell "travel agent credentials."

Travel agents book travel for third parties

The travel industry has become increasingly aware of a recent resurgence of companies selling phony travel agent credentials to consumers with the false promise of travel benefits. Such schemes, called "card mills" by the legitimate travel industry, purport to offer consumers the ability to "travel like a travel agent" for a fee of up to several hundred dollars. Companies selling the scheme tell consumers that cruise lines, airlines and tour companies will provide discounted travel to them once they receive the "travel agent" credentials in the mail.

Richard Earls of Travel Research Online, a travel agency advocacy group, indicates the problem has become chronic in some areas of the country despite the adverse publicity many of these companies and their schemes have been exposed to by the media. "Travel agents work hard on behalf of their clients and spend many hours in destination specialist courses and continuing education" said Mr. Earls. "The card mills claim not only to make consumers 'instant travel agents' but that the cruise lines and other travel suppliers will hand out discounts and free travel to just anyone calling themselves a travel agent. In reality however, many travel suppliers will not even accept bookings from these companies. The travel industry at large has caught onto the ruse and doesn't blindly honor phony travel agent identification. Consumers who pay their money for the false "travel agent" identification soon find themselves with nothing to show for their investment except empty promises."

Most card mills emphasize supposed savings that result from using their phony identification. In fact however, they are asking their victims to misrepresent themselves to hotels and other travel suppliers. "Travel agents book travel for third parties" said Earls. "The card mill will even include scripts telling their victims how to pose as agents without knowing anything at all about the travel industry and with no intent to book travel for third parties."

Travel Research Online warns consumers to slow down the high pressure tactics of the card mill representatives and to not fall for their schemes. "Investigate any such claims carefully. Typically a few quick internet searches will turn up more than enough evidence of a history of past problems. There is no such thing as an 'instant travel agent'" says Earls. "Legitimate travel agencies do not try to actively recruit consumers into the travel business on the merit of non-existent or supposed 'travel benefits.'"

The American Society of Travel Agents has published a guide to card mills entitled "Travel Industry Card Mills: What Consumers and Consumer Protection Agencies Should Know About Travel Industry Card Mills" which can be downloaded from their site at http://www.asta.org/about/content.cfm?ItemNumber=754&navItemNumber=525. In addition, Travel Research Online has launched the site http://www.cardmills.com to assist consumers with identifying companies that promise phony travel agent identification.

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Richard Earls
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