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Dears: How to avoid being fleeced by a ‘travel agency

Hundreds of criminal charges have been launched with the South African police department, saying that the owner of travel business Hello Darlings has failed to honor travel arrangements for which consumers have collectively paid millions of rands in advance.

Holidays in five-star luxury on the pristine beaches of Mauritius and the Maldives are available. A hot air balloon trip high over the Turkish town of Cappadocia. In Dubai, you may enjoy lavish feasts. This is what hundreds of travelers from South Africa were given when they arrived in the country. Many of these would-be vacationers claim that they have been accumulating money for these once-in-a-lifetime adventures for many years.

South Africans were eager to take advantage of the large discounts offered on these all-inclusive vacations – which included two-for-one bargains – and flocked to these destinations in record numbers.

However, those vacation days, which have already been paid for in full, are unlikely to materialize, and refunds are also doubtful.

Customer complaints allege that Moosa has absconded with their hard-earned money from the Hello Darlings establishment. The website for the travel agency has been disabled, and no one can get in touch with Moosa at this time.

Customers who were scheduled to travel this week did not get their plane tickets as expected. The resorts where they were supposed to stay have informed them that no such reservations exist.

Story after story of astonishment and frustration is shared on a Telegram channel that was created to aggregate information and assist in apprehending Moosa. Business Insider South Africa talked to a number of customers who were among the thousands who frequented the Telegram discussion platform, which was derided by Hello Darlings.

“We are disappointed, enraged, and discouraged. Covid has been a difficult company to work for, both financially and emotionally, and now this. Hello Darlings customers who requested anonymity spoke to Business Insider SA about an R30,000 vacation they had scheduled for April. “We spent up all of our funds to fund this trip, and we are now completely broke,” one Hello Darlings customer said.

“I see people questioning how they could possibly book with her, but the fact is that I know individuals who have done so successfully on her excursions.”

Several Hello Darlings customers are represented by Farhana Asmal, an attorney who has worked with the firm from its inception in 2018. Asmal says the company was founded in 2018 and, for the first couple of years, delivered on its promises. In late 2021, when the Omicron coronavirus variety was discovered, things began to go horribly wrong. Travel was severely affected as a result of this discovery.

After being unable to travel as a result of aircraft cancellations and border restrictions, many customers started asking refunds, only to be confronted with a bombardment of reasons why they couldn’t be reimbursed. A number of people chose to postpone their trips and maintain their paid reservations, while others, feeling something wasn’t quite right, put greater pressure.

Moosa’s explanations and delays about the non-payment of reimbursements became more implausible and convoluted. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to one customer who was supposed to fly to Turkey later in March, was to blame for the lack of contact during their most recent discussion earlier in the month, which Moosa admitted to during their final chat earlier in the month.

Yusuf Abramjee, who has been actively engaged in gathering facts of the alleged fraud and enlisting the assistance of the South African Police Services’ Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks), said that more than 200 criminal cases had been initiated as of Friday afternoon.

How to prevent being a victim of another Hello Darlings travel trap

While the customers of Hello Darlings battle for their rights, Abramjee and the Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA) have offered advice on what to check for when paying for a vacation in South Africa.

“The golden rule is that if anything seems to be too good to be true, it almost certainly is. A red flag should go up if your vacation is a true bargain, according to Otto de Vries, CEO of ASATA in an interview with Business Insider South Africa.

Unfortunately, ASATA receives many calls from customers whose vacation plans have been derailed because they purchased a vacation package that was just too good to be true, or because they have been duped and deceived by a travel operator.

In terms of market share, ASATA represents more than 90 percent of the South African travel industry, which includes retail travel agencies, travel management organizations, wholesalers, and suppliers of travel-related goods and services.

As a result, travel enterprises that display the ASATA stamp are required to adhere to a stringent code of conduct, and customers who do business with these businesses may be certain of receiving professional service, ethical behavior, and trustworthy behavior. Clients may determine whether or not their travel provider is an ASATA member by searching for the company’s name on the association’s official website.

De Vries advises against paying for a vacation using electronic funds transfer (EFT). All of Hello Darlings’ transactions were completed via electronic funds transfer (EFT), leaving customers with little recourse.

In reality, if you’re being pushed towards paying just by EFT, this implies you’re paying in cash. If you pay by electronic funds transfer, you may have difficulty getting your money back if the provider is proved to have committed travel fraud,” De Vries said.

Use a credit card to ensure that you are properly protected while making a transaction. You may ask your bank to reverse your payment if you have paid by credit card and have an issue with the provider, providing you do it within a certain deadline.”

Another warning indicator is questionable marketing, such as logos that are unclear or fuzzy, or photographs that are of poor quality. In the instance of Hello Darlings, practically all of the deals were promoted solely via social media, with the company enlisting the help of influencers to help customers plan their vacations.

De Vries went on to say that never-ending justifications, such as those supplied by Moosa, are also symptoms of major problems.

“If your travel provider continues to make excuses, there’s a significant likelihood they’re up to no good. ” If you are not receiving your vouchers and flying tickets in a timely manner, and if your questions are being replied with excuses on a consistent basis, alarm bells should be rung.

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