A photo of a woman recently went viral on social media, exposing her as a travel agent who scams her clients. The latest posting, by a teacher named Anuar Suhada, on Facebook, claims that their travel group were cheated out of a total of RM53,000. Their group of 23 travellers were supposed to go to Perth on 2 November 2018. However, after chartering a bus to bring them to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, they were left high and dry at the airport as their travel agent never showed up with their flight tickets. According to Anuar’s Facebook post, they had already paid her RM53,000 for the whole trip and they lost it all just like that.
Caption reads: “Wanted! Scammer… Aida Ashaari… Jom Hello Cuti… supposed to fly to Perth tonight at 12 midnight. Reached KLIA at 9.40. Waited but she never came. Have already settled Rm53k in full We’re stranded at KLIA… Aida has gone missing… hoping police friends can help… so that others won’t be scammed as well… I’ll post more of her pics so that more people will know about this and avoid getting scammed.”
A quick scan through the comments section shows that this same woman has actually cheated other customers before, either by booking them a different, cheaper trip than what they paid for; by not booking certain parts of the trip even though she had already been paid in full, e.g. not booking the return flight tickets; or simply running away with the money having booked nothing for the travel group, as what happened to Anuar here.
Screenshots of other complains about the same travel agent:-
According to this post, among the woman’s non-delivery of services include not paying accommodation providers and ground agents, and not booking in-flight meals and luggage allowances despite the customer already paying for it, forcing customers to pay extra at the airport counter or on-board.
This post claims that a family of 11 had their trip to Sapporo & Hokkaido arranged by the same woman cancelled at the last minute. However, they had managed to coerce the woman into paying back their money. Alas, while they finally went on the trip anyway, they had to pay a lot more due to all bookings being last minute and thus at full price.
This customer was cheated on her trip to Osaka, although it was not specified how exactly she was cheated. However, the customer contends that even complaining to the Tribunal For Consumer Claims Malaysia did not help much as they still haven’t gotten their money back despite already attending their court appointment that the alleged scammer was also present at.
Pretty scary stuff!
How To Avoid Getting Scammed By Travel Agents
So what can you do as a consumer to avoid getting scammed by unscrupulous travel operators? Some steps to take include:-
1. Checking Your Travel Agent’s Status
You may check whether the travel agent you are engaging is registered with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture on their website. Their Registered Travel Agency page lists down more than 6400 travel agencies. As these agencies have been vetted by the ministry, have valid operating licenses as well as premise and contact details, they will be held accountable more easily should anything go wrong. It will also be easier for you to lodge a complaint with the relevant authorities should any dispute arise.
2. Do Thorough Research
Although going with a travel agency registered with the MOTAC should be a safe bet, you should still do your research and check out their reputation before handing over any money. Companies have been known to have gone under and disappear with no prior notice, but you should be able to find some indication of this perhaps through social media, Google search or even the news. One of the benefits of social media is how everyone is eager to look out for other Malaysians and will share such stories in their posts.
3. Get Credible Recommendations For Non-Registered Agencies
Some enterprises, while not registered as a travel operator and does not have a license from MOTAC, might actually provide help with travel and accommodation arrangements for groups and family travel. As the licence from MOTAC costs about RM200,000, it is not particularly accessible to small companies operating on smaller cashflow. Hence, if you’re looking to go with a small, non-registered company to help arrange your travel itinerary because your friends went with them and they had the best time, do your homework and don’t rely on word-of-mouth alone. As mentioned in the case above, some groups might have had “no problems” and a better experience with the agency, but others may have had the worst holiday of their lives, or never even went at all!
We asked a company we have used before, IR Suria Happy Trips, on how they convince their customers of their services without a MOTAC license. Here, they share some tips on what you can do to check whether a travel operator can be trusted and to avoid getting scammed:-
Tips On Avoiding Being Scammed By Travel Service Providers
- Check if their business registration is valid, even if they might not have a MOTAC license. You can check business registrations and get their company profiles (for a fee) at the Companies Commission of Malaysia website.
- Search online for them for any news about them, as well as on social media. See if they have a social media page and how regularly they update. Look at their most recent posts and read the comments to see how their customers rate them.
- If possible, try to find out the name of the owners of the company or social media username and do a search on them. If you feel something doesn’t quite check out, go with your instincts and better to err on the side of caution.
- Get proper invoices or billings from them, detailing their business registration details and the services you are getting from them. Be as explicit as possible, listing down the specific services they are arranging for you, including transportation, flights, baggage allowances, room bookings, meals, entries to theme parks or other attractions, and other details. Include details such as the number of people each service is provided for, and the prices both parties have agreed upon. This will be your contract should you need to dispute anything in future. Of course, also ask for detailed receipts when making payments, and keep these on hand until the end of the trip.
Filing A Complaint On Travel Scammers
If you feel that you have been scammed or cheated out of money for services from a travel agency or travel-related business, of course you can file a complaint with the relevant agencies. Firstly, you’ll have to make a police report, detailing all the disputes and trail of events. You can then file a complaint with the Tribunal For Consumer Claims under the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Co-Operatives and Consumerism. However, it’s a tedious process and, as can be seen in the examples above, it may be hard to get retribution from the wrongdoer, even after due process. Thus, it’s better to take precautions to avoid getting scammed rather than to rely on the system that justice will be done as this takes up time as well as costs. Save yourself from any trouble by spotting the signs and avoiding problems before they happen.