Beware of vacation club scams

Consumer Reports

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Beach hat, sunglasses, and towel
The discounts offered by vacation clubs sound appealing. But before you sign up, check out the company behind the club.

When we looked at Federal Trade Commission cases, Better Business Bureau reports, and consumer-complaint websites, including Complaints.com and RipoffReport, we found plenty of gripes about vacation clubs. For example, in March the New Jersey attorney general sued a company and its owner for failing to provide the deep discounts, vacation accommodations, and other travel services that they claim had been promised. But the company did collect one-time membership fees that ranged from $995 to $8,500, plus a $29.95 monthly charge. "We allege that consumers paid significant money for sham memberships that were essentially worthless," said Thomas R. Calcagni, director of the state’s consumer affairs division, in a statement.

If you’re at all tempted to join a club, ask one of its representatives for a detailed explanation of any vaguely worded descriptions, such as "5-star" accommodations, the FTC says. Also ask about trip-cancellation and refund policies. Get the answers in writing. Check the BBB website for any reports on the club, and try a Web search using the company name to find out what customers are saying. Be especially wary of unsolicited promotions that come by regular mail, e-mail, or fax offering deeply discounted travel packages.

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