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CBS47 investigates a "travel club" sales operation

A sales pitch targeting Fresno residents sounds very similar to a scam that defrauded millions of dollars from New Jersey residents.
Is it too good to be true?  A group promising free airline tickets and selling memberships to a discount travel club raises red flags for one CBS47 viewer.

It all started with a postcard Patricia Bell got it in the mail.  It said she won free tickets, so she called the number on the back.

“They promise if you were willing to invest 90 minutes in a presentation for a travel agency, then you would get two round trip tickets anywhere Delta flies,” said Patricia Bell, a Fresno resident.

She later went to this northeast Fresno hotel for one of about a dozen scheduled presentations.

“I didn't get a great feeling from the start,” said Bell.

Bell says she asked a lot of questions up front and was quickly shown the door.

“He says, ‘You know we really appreciate your time,’ then he slides this over to us.  ‘We'll just give you your certificate for a free airline ticket,’” Bell said.

Confused and curious, Bell went online, searching the company "Blue Water."  She found bad reviews - even news articles - about fraud.

According to the New Jersey Attorney General, the owners of a "Blue Water" there pleaded guilty Wednesday to defrauding customers out of more than $2 million.  They did it by selling customers memberships to a discount vacation club that didn't exist.

We contacted the Better Business Bureau to see if the operation in Fresno is related to the same scam.  It sent two employees - posing as a married couple - to a presentation to investigate.

BBB says the pitch sounds familiar.  Sign up fees start at $8,900.  The brochures they were given show other company names: American Travel Planners and Millenium Travel.  BBB says both have "F" ratings based on consumer complaints.  But the name "Blue Water" is untraceable in BBB's data base.

“We have not been able to find a physical location at all on the company.  Some of the reports say they have virtual offices or mail drops,” said Cindy Dudley of the BBB.

We went to the hotel to ask questions.  Eventually, a salesperson who declined giving his name, said the boss would talk to our crew if it were a live interview.  He said the boss would call CBS47, so we left.  When we came back one hour later, the operation had completely packed up.  Everyone and everything was gone.  The hotel said the room had been booked from August 1-14.

Although it’s still unknown whether the “Blue Water” in Fresno is related to the scam out of the Northeast, Bell has her own theory.

“My grandma used to say, ‘If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck,’” said Bell.

We understand “Blue Water” met with residents in Fresno for several days before we confronted them.  It's unknown if they left town, or found a different hotel to work out of.  We understand they may be headed to Long Beach next.

If you attended a presentation and think you may be a victim, BBB wants to hear from you.  Call 559-222-8111.

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