Maybe the scammers are just trying to keep us on our toes. That's the only reasonable explanation for the trifold mailing I just received: a letter marked "PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL" with the headline of "Fly With Any US Airline." After all, who would fall for such a come-on?
Apparently some people do, because even though the Better Business Bureau warned about a similar mailing two years ago, some anonymous company keeps on trying to lure people into calling to win their "award of (2) round-trip airline tickets . . . and (2) nights at any one of over 1000 Marriott Hotel locations" with a retail value of up to $1,398 (up $100 from the 2012 maiings). Taxes and fees—to be paid up front for a vacation I could take at any time for 12 months—would be my responsibility.
Skeptical of the potential con, I made a call to the 855 number; 855 is a toll-free, nongeographic area code. A very cheerful "Diane" was excited to tell me about "PPB Travel," a "new" company that "buys big blocks" of airline seats and hotel rooms and is allegedly able to help travelers save tons of money.
Diane proceeded to ask several innocuous questions, covering such topics as the amount and kind of travel I do and my age and marital status. Mindful of Consumer Reports' advice about phishing scams and overall Internet privacy, I wasn't going to reveal anything sensitive. It turns out, secrecy goes both ways; A search for PPB Travel online turned up nothing, a troubling result in this digital age. I told Diane about the failed search, but she insisted that this award was "totally legit."
In the end, claiming the award required signing up for a 90-minute presentation by PPB Travel in the coming days at a Hilton on Staten Island, at which travel vouchers would be handed out. I politely bid adieu to Diane at that point.
Now it's possible that I passed on a free vacation, but based on the BBB article and details on a number of websites—Google "$1,398 free vacation scam"—I think I made the right decision.
Your best bet: Toss this type of mailing in the trash. Same with other come-ons you get by regular mail or e-mail. If you think something is legitimate, check online or visit the BBB Scam Stopper before you make a move.
—Steven H. Saltzman
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