Package travel scams on social media are on the rise worldwide – BBC News

  • Rafael Barifest and Oana Marosico
  • BBC World Service

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Maria (alias) decided to escape the summer in Australia. to take the family on a ski trip to the Alps

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), travel scams targeted by digital scammers are becoming more common and systematic around the world.

A BBC investigation found that dozens of Brazilians have fallen victim to this type of scam. After buying a luxury holiday from a man who uses Instagram to post pictures of luxury hotels and traveller’s dream destinations.

In December 2021, Maria (not her real name), a Brazilian living in Australia, decided to escape the summer there. to take the family on a ski trip to Europe

This is her first trip abroad since the coronavirus pandemic. So she wanted this trip to be special. So Maria paid $20,000 to buy a package tour with Brazilian broker Rafael Bessa, recommended by her friend.

At first everything seemed to be going according to plan. But when Maria leaves Hotel 3, the hotel manager informs her that she was not paid for the room she stayed in.

Then other unexpected things happen, such as when the family is about to board a train to travel to their next destination. Instead, he had to discover that the two train tickets provided by Rafael had the same reservation number. This means that only one ticket is valid.

While staying at another hotel Maria had to face the same problem. Although she had already paid for this travel package in full.

At first Maria thought that Rafael Bessa might be inefficient. But again and again, he realized that this was not a malfunction. but on purpose

image source, Rafael Bessa Signature Travel

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Rafael Bessa uses Instagram to post photos of luxury hotels and traveller’s dream destinations.

In total, Maria lost a total of $30,000 on the trip, of which $15,000 was paid for the tour package before departure.

Maria told the BBC: Not only does Rafael claim that she paid for all his accommodation. But it also helped her upgrade her accommodation at no extra cost. But these things didn’t really happen. And the hotel raised its luxury accommodation in full.

Maria remembered that Raphael promises to repay her. In which, although he sent “proof” of the money transfer, there was no money in her bank account.

When Maria decides to post her story on social media. She was approached by Rafael’s attorney who offered $20,000 in exchange for a cease and desist contract. he refused the offer.

The BBC contacted Rafael Bessa regarding Maria’s claims. He replied that there was a “problem that could not be resolved” with the price of one of the hotels where he was staying. And the room at this price is not included in the travel package that Maria bought. He also sent a copy of the train ticket order. The BBC found, as Maria recalled, that both tickets had the same order number.

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Ana Halenna buys a ski trip package. and a summer trip to Italy with Rafael. After arranging a wonderful holiday for her and her family to Brazil.

Another Brazilian woman who was chased by this broker is Ana Halenna, who bought a ski trip package. and a summer trip to Italy with Rafael. After he arranged a wonderful holiday for her and her family to Brazil.

This time, Ana chose to pay by partial cash payment. and used a credit card to pay the rest But later, she found that her card had a bill for British Airways tickets. So Ana calls Rafael and asks.

He told her that was the amount to pay for her hotel in Italy. But Ana does not believe the claim. So he sent an email to ask the hotel. and found that her accommodation was not being paid.

When Anaji asks Rafael to show proof that he booked her a place at a ski resort. He sent me an order number. But when checking with the destination, it was found that the booking number did not exist.

“I wasted money, dreams and plans for this trip. I lost everything,” said Ana.

Later, Ana talked to other Rafael customers who had had similar experiences. This broker was found to have a similar pattern of mischief: first time travel usually went well. But when customers start to trust and buy more expensive travel packages They will face the same problems that they experienced.

Raphael confirmed that to the BBC He booked a hotel room in Italy for Ana. But Ana cancels her skiing plans. And he had already paid her back.

But Ana insists she hasn’t canceled any plans and hasn’t received any money back from Rafael.

Despite Maria and Ana feeling angry and traumatized by the deception that took place. But it had little effect on their finances.

But for Adrian Trofin, a Brazilian mother of two who works and lives in London. Her dream trip to Greece does not go as planned. Has created a serious psychological impact to the point of causing a rift in the family.

Adrian says she doesn’t have enough budget for a luxury trip. But Rafael says tours can be arranged for all budgets. So he decided to buy a package holiday in Greece for 14 family and friends.

They prepaid the costs of staying at the luxury Club Med resort for Rafael, but when they arrived at Athens airport, there were no pick-ups from the resort as arranged.

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Adrian Trofin says that the horrific experience of buying a tour package from Rafael caused upheaval in her marriage with her husband.

Adrian sends a message to Raphael for help. He confirmed that everything was already booked. and give the phone number of the car company that will pick them up But Adrian was unable to contact these numbers at all.

After waiting for hours at the airport, Club Med’s airport customer service manager eventually stepped in to help. But after checking back, it was found that Rafael had actually booked Club Med accommodation. but he refused to pay within the specified time As a result, there was no place for Adrian and his family.

The manager tried to help me find accommodation in another hotel in Athens. Raphael claims that he will control the expenses But after checking back, that was not the case. leading to the end Adrian’s husband had to pay $8,500 for the whole group to stay in a new hotel.

Adrian remembers that “I spent that whole week. Negotiate with Raphael day and night. Try to get him to return some money. But he mocked me.”

He also threatened the other trips in the group, trying to convince them that the problem was all Adrian’s fault. and she owes it to him

“I’m like hell. I’ve never seen anything so bad in my life… Like seven days in Greece,” Adrian remembers.

“My marriage has been seriously shaken by this. To me it’s a lot of money. But now it’s not just about money anymore.”

Adrian said the experience had seriously affected her mental state.

Despite assuring Adrian that everything will go according to plan as she waits at the airport, Rafael instead told the BBC that he had canceled his order because she had not paid the money owed to him. .

But Adrian showed proof of transferring money to Rafael to buy all the tour packages before leaving.

The BBC spoke to 10 other Rafael victims, including Maria, Ana and Adrian, who paid a total of $90,000 to buy Rafa’s travel services. without receiving the service as agreed

The BBC also spoke to lawyers representing almost 50 other Rafael clients who have said they were the subject of similar fraud. The total damage was $183,000.

Rafael denies these allegations to the BBC. saying he was shocked He said 90% of the claims made by former clients were untrue.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), travel agencies are increasingly turning to social media to find clients.

Alicia Gomez, UNWTO’s legal counsel, said that the images posted by these companies on social media led many customers to believe that the service was more reliable than the advertisements found on the web.

At the same time, he noted that the problem of digital travel fraud is on the rise worldwide. by doing so widely and systematically

UNWTO has set rules to protect tourists. It outlines the various responsibilities of social media companies, governments and customers. Currently, seven countries have signed up to the rule, with the rule being made into law. While Brazil and many other countries are in the process of joining.

Meta’s Instagram and Facebook company. told the BBC that the company does not tolerate fraud in its territory. and has worked closely with law enforcement to help identify and eliminate scammers. There are also investments in new technologies to ensure consumer safety.

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