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Holiday firm just helped themselves to Eric's pounds 640; Sales pitch persuaded him to reveal credit card details.

Byline: THE JUDGE Additional Reporting VICTORIA MITCHELL

IT'S a classic hard-sell tactic. Someone phones up out of the blue, offering a deal that sounds almost too good to be true.

You're tempted but you want time to consider. The caller asks for some of your personal details meantime, like name, address and credit card number.

Next thing you know they've booked the deal as a sale and pocketed the cash, leaving you to fight like hell to get your money back.

That's exactly what happened to 64-year-old Eric Alexander, of Rothesay, who ended up shelling out pounds 640 for a holiday he didn't particularly want.

The story began last August when Eric was called at home after 9pm by a company called Affinity Holidays, who offered him a break in Florida at a "very reasonable price".

But the cost of the 14-day holiday, which included a luxury cruise to the Bahamas, was never actually quoted by the saleswoman, who would only say it was a "bargain" holiday and a "once in a lifetime opportunity".

Eric, a retired painter and decorator, asked if they catered for the disabled as his wife Catherine, 63, suffers from emphysema, is in a wheelchair and needs to be on oxygen 16 hours a day.

Affinity's saleswoman assured Eric they could cater for Catherine's needs and he said he was interested in the holiday.

He was then asked how he would pay. He said by credit card and didn't think twice about confirming his number as he still didn't know the cost of the holiday and expected to be sent out detailed information before he made a final decision. The next day Eric told his daughter Caroline Lilley about the call - and she immediately sensed something was not right.

They contacted Florida-based Affinity and were shocked to discover that the firm were claiming Eric had booked the holiday.

He asked to cancel but he was told that he could do nothing until he received reference number.

When that came through, he wrote within seven days telling Affinity that he wanted to cancel the booking.

But when Eric's credit card statement came through in September, he found out more than pounds 640 had been debited by Affinity .

Eric said: "Looking back, I feel quite foolish but the woman on the phone only asked me if I would be paying for any holiday by credit card and I said yes.

"I didn't think twice about giving my number. I didn't realise I was actually booking the holiday."

After numerous failed attempts to get through on Affinity's customer services helpline, Caroline, 39, called in her lawyers, who wrote requesting a full refund.

They pointed out that Affinity had broken their own terms and conditions as Eric was entitled to a seven-day cooling-off period.

But Airmail sent to the States usually takes over seven days and Affinity's fax machine was permanently engaged.

Even the lawyers received no reply and, in despair, the family turned to me for help.

Eric said: "This has caused my wife and I so much stress and worry. Affinity kept saying one thing and then doing another and we were very upset." Daughter Caroline, 39, added: "My father was led to believe that he would not need to pay a penny until he signed and confirmed the reservation.

"These companies prey on the old and infirm. They give them their jargon which could easily confuse anyone."

I too had difficulty getting through to Affinity Holidays, but eventually I managed to track them down to an office the American-owned company operates in outer London.

There, a foreign-sounding man, who refused to give his name, said there was no way Eric was tricked into giving his details.

He said: "He must have known. I'll pass this information to my colleagues. We are going to deal with it." After my call, Caroline received a letter from her lawyer, saying the credit card company had refunded the money when Affinity did the decent thing - five months after the sorry saga began.

Caroline said: "I want to warn others who think they are getting a great deal and stop them parting with hard-earned cash."

Sean Tipton, a spokesman for the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), advised people never to give their credit card details over the phone unless they are 100 per cent sure they want to book a holiday.

He said: "If money has been taken without authority, people should contact the credit card company as it is an unauthorised debit. The companies are usually very sympathetic to the card holder and will carry out their own investigation."

Insurance slant by get-rich-quick merchants

IF I had a pound for every letter I received about 'get-rich-quick' schemes, I'd be rolling in dough.

Yet thousands of my readers continue to be duped by junk mail scams offering guaranteed jackpot payouts.

My cast-iron advice is the same as ever - if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.

The latest cash scheme to pop through letterboxes is from Hospital Plan Insurance Services.

It's different from the thousands of junk mail letters I've seen before as the jackpot is linked to an insurance policy. To claim a payout of pounds 250,000, winners are told to fill in a 'no-commitment direct debit mandate'.

They end up with a subscription to a Disability Insurance Policy, which can be difficult to cancel.

Reader Gordon Rennie, 49, got one of the prize draw letters.

Gordon, of Paisley, said: "When you read the letter at first it seems too good to be true and it's quite difficult to take in."

As I explained to Gordon, the firm gets hold of your bank details and then sends out an insurance policy on free trial. But if you examine the small print on the direct debit form, you're effectively allowing Hospital Plan to take what it likes from your bank.

Gary Ward from the Advertising Standards Authority said: "One of the issues we're concerned about is how difficult it might be to cancel the mandate."

An investigation has been launched by the ASA following complaints from consumers.

Gary added: "If any member of the public feels misled by the letters or has a problem, then we'd urge them to get in touch."

Trading Standards officers warn people to be wary about giving out Tarling, of the Association of British Insurers, also advises caution. He said: "This is obviously just a marketing exercise, but if the company is making promises then it must keep them.

"There is an industry code of practice related to selling insurance products and Hospital Plan must stick to this."

Paul Brett, director of Hospital Plan Insurance Services, denied there was a catch.

He said: "We are not trying to mislead or upset consumers. We're banking on people taking out our insurance policy after the free trial

VERDICTS

Am I due a holiday payment?

I'VE been working for an agency for six months, but the boss won't give me statutory holiday pay. He says I am self-employed, yet still deducts tax and NI from my wages. Surely this can't be right?

IF you are self-employed, then the agency should not deduct tax and National Insurance as you would be responsible for payment of those amounts to the Inland Revenue.

I assume you work part-time and so current employment protection regulations would apply.

You are broadly entitled to the same conditions as full-time workers. If the other employees get statutory holidays or days in lieu, then so should you.

Legal Aid worry

I HAVE been offered a settlement of an injury claim. I was granted Legal Aid to take the case further and wonder if I will have to pay this back from my award.

THE compensation offer will include judicial expenses. So it's unlikely any claim will be made on the Legal Aid fund. The money is all yours.

He's no friend

I GAVE a friend a loan of pounds 1000 on condition that it was paid back within a year. The year came and went, but I managed to get pounds 500 back after tracking him down to a new address. I took out a small debt claim action to retrieve the rest, but am still awaiting payment. Is there anything more I can do?

YOU can enforce your decree via sheriff officers who would serve a charge on the debtor. If you know where he has a bank account in credit you can instruct sheriff officers to arrest it.

Fourteen days after the charge is served, you can instruct sheriff officers to carry out a poinding and then a warrant sale. If you know where he works, you could lodge an earnings arrestment with his employers.

Will of law

MY brother died recently, and I am his only living relative. I was shocked to find he changed his will in favour of a couple he met on holiday last year. Surely this can't be right?

UNDER Scots law, the only people with legal rights under a will are a spouse and children. If your brother had no surviving wife or children, he could leave his estate to whoever he wished.

The only way to contest this is by alleging what is called "facility and circumvention". You must prove your brother was in a weakened mental state, the people concerned "got round" him and that, in making the will, his interests were harmed.

Old car debt

I KEEP getting fixed penalty notices for a car I sold a year ago without a tax disc. I didn't complete the DVLA registration document with the new owner's details, but surely it's up to him to sort out the mess?

YOU don't have to pay if the car is no longer yours. Inform the DVLA about the new owner and pass his details to the police. That should end your problem.

WRITE TO: The Judge, Sunday Mail, One Central Quay, Glasgow G3 8DA

FAX TO: 0141-309 3587

Please include daytime phone number if possibleE-MAIL: mailbox@

sundaymail.co.uk

(remember to include your address and telephone number)
COPYRIGHT 2001 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 
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Title Annotation:The Judge
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jan 21, 2001
Words:1681
Previous Article:MY FATHER WORKED HIMSELF TO DEATH.
Next Article:Town of the week; Fraserburgh.


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