Friday, December 12, 2008

FILIPINO TRAVEL AGENCY UNDER INVESTIGATION FOR FRAUD


Customers Advised To Check With Airlines To Verify If Tickets Bought Are Valid

By Yong B. Chavez
www.FilipinOnline.com

Long Beach, Calif.-- What if you came to the airport and found out that your tickets are not valid? A Filipino-owned travel agency in Long Beach is the focus of a fraud investigation by the police. Over 30 customers have filed complaints against The Travel Place because they allegedly bought airline tickets for the Philippines that turned out to be bogus.

Mayvel Ocampo was so excited about her plans to spend Christmas in the Philippines, so as early as may, she purchased her Cathay Pacific tickets from The Travel Place in Long Beach.

"I saw their ad in a Filipino newspaper…I called and talked to Alex. He asked me to send them the check and then he sent me the supposed e-tickets through mail. They cashed my check around May," said Ocampo.

Her sister also bought a ticket from the same travel agent named Alex Rebote. All in all, they paid over $5,000 to the travel agency for their tickets.

In October, Ocampo called Cathay Pacific to reserve their seats. She got the surprise of her life when they told her that her booking was cancelled by The Travel Place.

"I called and talked to Alex and he said, 'Really? It was cancelled?' He told me there was just a confusion. He said, 'Everything's OK, I'll send you the ticket," Ocampo said.

The tickets never came. Ocampo called several times a week and got the same reassurance each time. She called Cathay Pacific, and true enough, they have another booking for her - albeit in business class.

It turned out that that was all it was: A booking.

In late November, on another follow-up call, the phone was answered by a building employee who said that The Travel Place office was now deserted; the whereabouts of its owners and employees, unknown.

The Long Beach Police Department is currently investigating over thirty complaints against the company which is owned by Jeanette Lim and has been in operation since 2002, according to the Better Business Bureau.

Reports of fraud against them continue to pour in. Ocampo has heard of a Filipino family who bought tickets from the same place who went to the airport only to be told that what they had were not e-tickets but only itineraries. Another customer recently posted a complaint with the Better Business Bureau - they were stranded in Manila because their return tickets weren't valid.

The Travel Place did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.

With e-tickets replacing paper tickets, customers who get itineraries instead of paper tickets can be easy marks for scammers.

To avoid becoming a victim, travelers are encouraged by the police to seek precautions.

When making travel arrangements, experts give the following tips: Always ask detailed questions and get everything in writing. Verify with the airlines if they have issued the tickets that you paid for, and consider paying with a credit card that allows consumer to dispute charges when problems occur.

It's an expensive lesson for Ocampo, who had to come up with another four thousand dollars so that her family trip can go on. She also had to adjust her vacation leave with her work because there were no more airline seats available on her original schedule.

"That's what hurts more because kapwa Pilipino so you trust more kasi pareho kayo ng pinanggalingan but I guess anywhere, merong mangloloko," she said.

Consumers who lost money from travel sellers can either file a lawsuit or seek compensation with the Travel Consumer Restitution Corporation.

California's Secretary of State also has a "Victims of Corporate Fraud Compensation Fund."

Ocampo's sister, Marvet Espejo, could not come up with the payment for another ticket so she is forced to cancel her plan to find a venue for her upcoming wedding in the Philippines.

"That's why I'm so pissed, everything…ang sakit-sakit dahil hindi ko makikita ang family ko for another year," Espejo said. She adds that she literally has nightmares due to this experience.

The sisters suspect that many homecoming Filipino Americans are still unaware that the tickets they bought might not be valid.

They feel compelled to search the Internet for any information on Lim and Rebote and to spread the word about what happened to them so other Filipinos can be forewarned.

"We feel so helpless...We heard a rumor that the owners of the travel agency have gone to the Philippines," Espejo said.

"That may very well be the case, but I can't say for sure," said Jackie Bezart, public information officer of the Long Beach Police Department. "The investigation is ongoing."

Complainants are not all from Los Angeles area only because many transactions were done over the phone.

To report a complaint, contact Detective Greg McMullen at the Long Beach Police Department at (562) 570-7330.


==
A shorter version of this story appeared on my Balitang America report this week. Photo info: Mayvel Ocampo, Magnus Ocampo and Marvet Espejo, outside the former office of The Travel Place, 4000 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach, CA.

17 comments:

Philippine Travel Agency In Toronto said...

It's sad but true. Your own countryman/woman conned you of your hard earned money. It also happened a while back in Toronto, by 2 different Filipino travel agents. Most of the victims are those who were led to believe that (1) they have the cheapest airfare to the Philippines and (2) they can pay by installments. I hope our kababayans would be wise enough to know that some promises or claims are too good to be true.

Manuel
http://royalvacationstravel.com

Anonymous said...

this one example of the trend to come in the U.S. as far as businesses are concern. Look at FORD, G.M., Banking System. There is no small or big when it comes to reality. Let's play wise and safe! We can't blame this little guys. Let's blame ourselves and our lifestyle for what mess that we had brought about to the economy!

Charito CV travel said...

I am a travel agent too but what happened to me was the reversed. It was a referral, he ordered 4 business class tickets. On the day of departure he got all the tickets costing almost $7,000. He issued me a check, since it's on a Saturday and after 1:00pm I cannot check anymore if the check is legitimate. But the aunt who referred this guy told me that he knows him because it's his nephew. To cut the story short these people went with this trip for free. I was conned by this Felicisimo "Bong" Meneses. He is married to Maria Domingo. Pls let me know if you know this people.
I think this people are now living in Florida or Chicago.

Anonymous said...

Same here. I got conned by a whole family that bought business class tickets for the philippines using their credit card .. the deal went thru but after the trip they disputed the card company that they never travelled. So i went to all the processes in submitting the supporting evidences and after a long wait the family decided to to just pay me from their own pocket but until now i never got a single cent. my heart is with this fellow travel agency. people these days are 10% legitimate and the rest are crooks! they know about in how to get around the system! Im sure that this travel agency experienced this credit card scheme, defaulted checks and so on.

Anonymous said...

My close-family have been using this travel agency for years now. When we were praparing for our wedding last summer, we called Alex to purchase tickets for 3 of our vendors for the wedding coming from Manila. We paid 2 tickets through our credit card since the 3rd vendor was not ready to fly yet. 2 Weeks later, the 3rd vendor called and gave us a date. We called Alex for the third ticket and he told us that he found a better deal for all three tickets. He said to pay in cash/check and we will refund back the credit charges. We issued a check $3800+ for three tickets and asked for a receipt. Just before the wedding, the credit card statement came and found out the the two ticket charges was still not refunded and on top of this, there was one extra ticket charged without my authorization. I called the credit card company to dispute it and told me to call Alex who all the charges came from. We even purchased our honeymoon package to him and when we came back, the credit charges was still on the statement. I've been calling and even went to his office for almost every 2 weeks just to check if he'd credited back the three ticket charged plus interest. He kept saying the same thing over and over he'll call the credit card company and even pay for the interests. Until we call the other week....they filed for bankruptcy according to their voicemail. Didn't know he's scammed this much of customers.

Anonymous said...

It almost happened to us when my wife was sent by the company she works for to the Philippines mid November this year. She purchased the ticket from The Travel Place as early as October. Alex gave her her itinerary. My wife suddenly had a hunch to call Philippine Airlines to reserve a seat only to find out that her booking was cancelled which was a week before her scheduled trip to Manila. She called Alex repeatedly with a PAL rep on the other line (landline)and theatened Alex that my wife would not hang up until he resolved the issue with PAL. With this set-up, PAL gave my wife another confirmation and was even given a seat assignment. Twp days before her trip, my wife decided to call PAL again only to be told that her booking was cancelled again. We did the same thing (call Alex with PAL on the other line) and we asked for a confirmation letter and reminded Alex and PAL that we would continue checking the booking until her departure date. While my wife was on the phone with Alex, I went to Alex' office without any notice and he was very surprised to see me. I finally got a confirmation letter from Alex. In return, he got a mouthful from me and reminded him how ungrateful he was for all those customers that I gave and referred to him.

Tip: always check your bookings with the airline especially when you booked your flight with a Filipino travel agent. It is disgusting that fellow Filipinos have the gull to do this dastardly act to their kababayans. Do the same for your return trip.

Anonymous said...

I've just arrived in Manila yesterday from Los Angeles, this will be the first time I'm spending Christmas back home. I know I should be thankful am already here and safe and somehow have the means to achieve this.
Yes, I'm also one of their clients who was promised a ticket after confirming it a month before and again a week prior to my flight- and why not, they cashed in my check Last May. To my surprise last Sunday in LAX when I was told by Cathay personel that my ticket was cancelled and that nothing was booked for me. The process was hell, I have to pay almost double the previous amount, pay extra for my check-in because I was told that I can still bring 2 70 lbs. I was even advised by Alex- "why not bring 3 50 lbs, there's a lot passengers doing it. The horror of rushing in to get a ticket for that day, panicking after being informed that days before Christmas is fully booked! Yep, got a ticket- unfortunately only LAX to Hong Kong. I have to get a ticket to Manila in Hong Kong which I did. Cathay personel in LAX was kind enough to assist us in this endeavor, but of course they can't do more that that- its not their fault.

I still remember being frisked and being swabbed while in a glass room stared by other passengers with 2 dogs infront of me and why, am perspiring profusely while others are cold becuase of the above stress. A few minutes more I would have misssed my flight, cost me more than money, vacation but time, missed time to be with loved ones in Quezon City.

Alex you need to answer to this@

Anonymous said...

did any of you who were scammed got a copy of the check Alex cashed? Most likely you'll be able to find out where his bank is and the police can get a hold on that account if he has committed a fraud. Also, you can or the police can get the address from the bank since the account number will be in that check that he cashed. Police can get a warrant to the bank and be able to track his atm withdrawals or if he uses his atm as a debit/credit card at the mall or stores.

Anonymous said...

Im so sorry to hear that these couple Alex and Jeanette Rebote Lim has defrauded our own kababayans. I also had a bad experience dealing with these people. I purchased a ticket way back August for my trip to the Philippines last November. I paid them in check and he provided me an itinerary instead of a confirmation letter from the airline. I was originally booked with Cathay Pacific and 3 hours before I left Manila, I received a call from Alex saying that my airline was change to Korea Airlines. I have no choice but to embark on the plane on my way back to Manila. I think Im still lucky that I was able to leave the U.S. on my departure date. However, when returning to the U.S. I was shocked at NAIA airport after confirming with Korean Airlines that I dont have any confirmed returned booking on the said date. They were saying that I need to pay rebooking fee for $75 to be able to get a confirmed flight. Since I dont have any choice I paid the $75 and upon arrival in the U.S. I called Alex and he said he will reimburse the fee that I paid. But unfortunately, I did not get anything from these scammers. The rest is history.

Rose P said...

Hello. I heard that Alex Rebote was caught already. Does anyone here know if its true or not? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

purchased ticket for my son and myself only to fiond out that they were voided. this happened last december 5, my 11 year old son was in NAIA to check-in, ready to go but the PAL personnel said that my son can't go because he's ticket was cancelled, actually they said that the payment for the ticket was refunded on december 4 which is december 5 in the philippines. my heart was really broken when my son started crying, i was just talking to them on the phone when it happened because i was here in the states. i even talked to Alex rebote 2 days before the flight because i've been having a hard time getting my son's confirmation, he just gave it to me 2 days before december 5. and i also purchased ticket for myself for my march trip but of course, it's voided too. i also referred my friend to Alex and my friend purchased 2 tickets for her parents only to find out that they were voided too. she called cathay pacific and said there was a booking but the ticket were not paid. oh my gosh...

Anonymous said...

Hello!

Has these couple have been caught yet? Please keep me updated. Thanks!

russelltehri said...

This is definitely an unfortunate incident. And I surely hope this is an isolated case there and everywhere. But I'm sure this is not limited to just the Filipino community.

In any case, everyone should always exercise precaution in whatever personal and professional dealings that they may have.

Russell
www.e-Philippines.com.ph
explore. experience. enjoy. Philippines.

Anonymous said...

Hello,

Alex Rebote is als0 wanted by the Filipino Community in Kuwait. He used to work there before moving to the USA. Any news about his arrest is welcome.

Anonymous said...

I am going home this Christmas and I was planning to call up Alex and I decided to read the news that Alex has scammed a lot of people. I went home last August and paid my ticket like 2 months before and I was given an itinerary when I ask for my e ticket he said he will mail it to me. Since I have been a regular customer I trusted him and about 2 weeks before my scheduled flight I called PAL and I was told I have no reservation,booking for me. I have to call Alex everyday. I got my email ticket 2 days before my flight schedule. That was scary.

Anonymous said...

Hello,

Does anyone have a picture of alex rebote there in the states? Thanks. I was just wondering if he was the same guy that scammed me here in the Philippines.

Jaime said...

I hope Alex goes to jail. He scammed a lot of people including his own relatives. He even hides from his own siblings. He borrowed money from me years ago. It wasn't much. But the thing is, he never ever kept his word and never paid me back. He also has this gall to get mad when you ask him nicely to give my money back. He left his real wife and kid in the philippines and went with another woman. He gets away with all his wrongdoings. Hope karma catches up with him.