You have won a free vacation! - Information on Vacation fraud
It's probably happened to you before: you pick up the phone, open a letter, or open your email to receive the announcement that you've won a free vacation! For a second you're overjoyed at your good fortune as you imagine yourself lazing by the beach and sipping daiquiris under palm trees, until you remember - you didn't enter a contest, how could you have won a free vacation?
If you have ever supposedly won a free vacation but not taken steps to claim it, thinking that it was probably too good to be true, you made the right decision. This is a scam to get money out of you by giving you nothing. If you had followed through on the offer and taken the next step, you would have been asked to call the company back to claim your vacation. That's how you would find out about the catch. In the most common form of this scam, to be eligible for the free vacation you would have to pay a fee (sometimes as much as $200 or $300) to join a travel club that would fund your complimentary vacation. Still, a couple of hundred dollars to join a travel club isn't bad if you get a vacation worth a few thousand dollars out of it, right? Well if you ever got your vacation, this would sound like a good deal, but chances are you would never get the vacation. You would possibly receive a travel packet outlining your vacation, but there would be heavy restrictions on when you could take your trip. You might also have to pay an additional handling charge at actually book the vacation. And the travel dates you preferred would not be available. However, for yet another fee you may be offered an upgraded plan. Of course that would be if you even got the travel packet after paying for your club membership.
If you actually did receive a vacation, you would be booked under substandard accommodations, worth no more than you paid for your club membership. However most people who fall for the free vacation scam don't receive anything after making any sort of payment, not even a travel packet or a membership card! As the law closes in on the fraudsters, most opt to close down and move on, leaving their "members" with no vacation, no contact information, and less money in their bank account.
If you have been victimized by a free vacation scam or fraudulent travel club, or if you receive a suspicious solicitation from one in the mail, please contact your postmaster or the nearest Postal Inspector.