Cheap flights scam grounded
Investigators from the National Trading Standards eCrime team based in York and North Yorkshire have brought a national travel company and its sole director to justice. TravelnTravel.co.uk lured consumers with the promise of cheap flights, but failed to honour them.
At York Crown Court today (12 June 2014) His Honour Judge Kearl QC sentenced Travel n Travel Ltd to £200 on each of the five offences. Judge Kearl said that Ms Meer was a director of the company and the figurehead of an organisation that had caused enormous distress. Ms Meer was sentenced to a 12 month Community Order and required to undertake 150 hours unpaid work, additionally she was disqualified from acting as a director or shadow director for five years.
At an earlier hearing -15 May 2014 - in York Magistrates Court, Travel n Travel Ltd and its sole director and company secretary, Ms Amina Meer from New Market Street, Skipton, aged 42, pleaded guilty to offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 following a detailed investigation by the National Trading Standards e-crime Team. Ms Meer was guilty of six offences, whilst the company was guilty of five offences, committed between 2 January 2013 and 1 October 2013. However, both the company and Ms Meer were committed to York Crown Court for sentencing.
The National Trading Standards eCrime Centre is run by both North Yorkshire County Council and City of York Council through the National Trading Standards Board, together with funding from the Business Innovation Service. Its role is to protect UK consumers and businesses from online scams and rip-offs.
In this case consumers who were lured onto the site, paid deposits of around £50 by credit card to book tickets for cheap flights and forced to pay the balance by bank transfer, which made it very difficult to cancel or get their money back once they had paid. Customers had to repeatedly chase the company for acknowledgement of payment of the ticket, only to find, when it was finally issued, it wasn’t at the price originally quoted over the phone. Customers would often be told the price of their tickets had gone up or that they were liable to additional sums for failing to comply with the terms of the contract. Customers who successfully cancelled were charged an administration fee of £50 or more to process the refund which could take up to six to eight weeks.
Ms Amina Meer told investigators that her company had no UK-based staff, operated through a call centre of five staff run from Pakistan, but claimed she had no involvement in the running of the call centre. She also said that since incorporation in 2012, the company had sold between 1,200 and 1,400 travel tickets and had refunded 220-250. She said 35-40 complaints were still pending. She had previously declined to answer investigators’ questions about her salary from Travel n Travel, or how the staff in Pakistan were paid, but did admit to transferring money abroad.
The company also falsely claimed on its website that it had been trading since 2003, that it took all major debit and credit cards and was an agent of the International Air Transport Associated or IATA. However, it was actually incorporated in 2012, insisted on taking payments apart from the initial £50 deposit by bank transfer, and wasn’t registered with IATA at all.
Lord Toby Harris, Chairman of the National Trading Standards Board said: “There is a perception that eCrime investigations are lengthy and fraught with difficulty but the National Trading Standards eCrime team continues to maintain a 100% conviction rate. I am delighted to see that this case has again seen justice served following the team’s investigation. This sends a clear message to rogue companies attempting to defraud consumers online that they will not be allowed to get away with it.”
“This was a highly organised scam” said County Councillor Chris Metcalfe, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Trading Standards. “Staff from the National eCrime Centre based here in North Yorkshire are to be congratulated therefore for their unrelenting pursuit to bring this company to justice which has resulted in this successful prosecution.”
Councillor Tracey Simpson-Laing, City of York Council’s Cabinet Member for Homes and Safer Communities, said: “I welcome the outcome of this prosecution for a cruel scam that shattered people’s dreams. This exploited people, many of whom had saved hard for long-haul flights to see their family or perhaps to treat themselves to a special holiday. To find that, at the eleventh hour, they had lost their flight and their money – unless they paid even more – was an additional blow. I’m delighted the experts based at City of York Council are able to investigate and bring the perpetrator to justice.”
People planning to make last minute arrangements to visit Brazil to watch the World Cup games should heed the warning this case gives.