INVESTIGATION: “The holiday is postponed!” Dozens of People Left Without Their Vacation and Money after Falling into the Trap of a Travel Agency
They were going to spend their vacation in the same hotel, but they met at the police station. Dozens of people were left without their vacation and money after they contacted the travel agency Travel & Party from Moldova, which stole their vacation.
After the company provided them with all the necessary documents for the trip and postponed their vacation just a few hours before departure, people found that the documents showed signs of forgery. From the documents and audio recordings consulted by ZdG, we deduce that the company would not have booked the plane tickets for the people who contacted it and would have booked stays in a different location than the one indicated in the contract. Everything was left with complaints on behalf of the company to the police, who initiated a criminal case.
Ziarul de Gardă talked to people who arrived at their destination but were expelled from the hotel and returned home, due to the fact that the travel agency has debts and did not pay for accommodation.
At the same time, in similar situations, there were people who planned their vacation with the Travel & Party agency in previous years and so far have not been able to return their money.
2,300 euros cost Vasile (name changed e.n.) a lost vacation. “A handful of money thrown in the wind,” says the man. Vasile’s family never allowed themselves a vacation in a country other than Ukraine. This year, Vasile, his wife, their two children, but also a few friends set out to reach the sea in Turkey. On August 13, they bought tourist tickets from the travel agency Travel & Party. Based on the contract signed with the company, Vasile paid with cash – 2,300 euros – for the vacation that was to start on August 19.
“I made money at home. We have also gathered from year to year, only we know how”
A day earlier, on August 18, the family received all the necessary documents to go on their vacation. A few hours before the flight, the company’s administrator informs them that “their vacation is postponed until August 21.” It all ended with a complaint to the police.
“On August 19, I kind of understood that it was a scam. We went to the company’s office, where we were told the police had arrested the administrator. We went to the police, we wrote a complaint and that’s it. The administrator answered the phone that week and told me she was going to call me later. Since then, I call her every day, but she does not answer,” the man tells us.
Vasile says that out of the over 2,300 euros, he is left only with a contract, a voucher for taking a COVID-19 test, and a photo with the complaint he left to the police.
“It is considerable material damage because I worked and made the money at home. Also from year to year, we have gathered, only we know how. Maybe it’s easy for someone to gain this money, but for us it was hard… And well, I’m very sorry for my children. This hurts them the most, they wanted a vacation, they wanted to fly… We are people devoted to the country, who make money here in the country, and here in the country we were scammed,” says Vasile.
The man claims that most of all he wants other people not to be scammed. ”There are many new people. There are people who, like us, gathered as much as they could, but there are also people who took credit for this vacation and have to give the money back.”
“The holiday is postponed!”
After the coronavirus pandemic stole their vacation last summer, this year the Spătaru family set out to spend “a dream vacation in Turkey by the sea.” The family was to be accommodated in the same hotel where Vasile’s family was to arrive.
Tatiana Spătaru lives and works in Chșinău. The woman says that her family has saved all year round, only to be able to afford a holiday in the summer at the sea. To realize their dream, they turned to the company Travel & Party, which they found on social media, where were displayed some ads with advantageous offers. The family went to the agency’s office, where they talked about all the details for the tourist package. As nothing was suspicious, according to Tatiana, they signed a contract with the tourism company and paid 1,000 euros for the long-awaited trip.
“We were supposed to fly on August 14th and the administrator promised us that by August 13th she would give us all the vouchers, the whole package of documents we need to present, and those needed for the antigen tests. On August 13, we were present at the office. She received us with great difficulty because she was too busy. Several dissatisfied people were present there too, they came with complaints. But still, she gave us some test vouchers, we left, we did the tests the next day. She called us the day we had to leave for the airport when we were in the car to the airport, and said, `Sorry, your vacation is postponed`,” Tatiana remembers.
At that time, the manager of the company justified it by the fact that the hotel where the family was to be accommodated would have sold more tickets than the number of rooms available. However, she assured them that the holiday was only postponed for a few days, so that on August 19, the family would take off for Turkey.
800 euros for fake documents
“We came again to get the vouchers and we insisted on presenting the documents for the hotel. When she presented us with these vouchers, we noticed several mistakes. I mean, the hotel was spelled incorrectly, the city: we were going to Alanya, but there it was written Kemer. To all our questions, we received the answer: “Don’t worry, just present your passport and everything will be ok,” says the woman, noting that this time, a few hours before departure, the company’s administrator informed her that the vacation was postponed again.
However, the family decided to go to the airport to find out information from the airline with which they should have arrived in Turkey. There, they met several families who were in the same situation. To everyone’s surprise, they found out that, in fact, there were no ticket reservations on their name in the airline’s database.
Maria (name changed, e.n.) was also at the airport that evening. The woman bought from the same company a tourist package identical to that of the Spătaru family, only for two people. Maria’s stories coincide with Tatiana’s. After being twice told that her vacation had been postponed, the woman had arrived at the airport to find out what had happened. Maria found that she paid almost 800 euros for fake documents. After getting the news from the airport that the travel company did not provide her with a plane ticket, the woman decided to contact both the Turkish company listed in the documents as the intermediary of the Moldovan company and the hotel where she should have to stay to find out if there are reservations on her behalf.
“We contacted the Noxin Delux Hotel on August 19 and they told me that there are no reservations on my name. After that, we contacted the Summer Tour, that is, the travel agency in Turkey that had to make the transfer, to take us from the airport to the hotel. They confirmed to me that the voucher is fake. There are completely different numbers on their vouchers,” says Maria. ”This is a scam. It was clear from the beginning from the documents they gave us. The contract where the receipt is displayed says the hotel where we were supposed to live, but the voucher indicates a hotel that no longer works and is in another city.”
The documents and audio recordings consulted by ZdG show that Maria’s family paid for a stay in a hotel in Alanya, Turkey, but the Moldovan travel agency made the reservation in another hotel, with a similar name, from another city. All in the context in which on the plane tickets offered by the Moldovan company was indicated the departure from Alanya, only that the airline specified that there are no reservations in Maria’s name for this flight.
“I am most upset that such people are still active”
Igor, a young man from Chișinău, set out to mark the anniversary of the relationship at sea, in Turkey, with his girlfriend. He took “a hot offer of ultra all-inclusive,” says the young man, for which he paid 800 euros, but he ended up with a “total disappointment”. Although both Igor and the other people whose vacation did not take place received letters from the tourist company guaranteeing that their money will be returned within 14 days, this did not happen.
“I am very upset that such people are still active. We went the next day and the company was active. There were people paying for fake trips. And everything was fine, that is, it continues to operate, nothing happens, and the law is made in such a way that it cannot do anything to them. You know that it is said that everyone leaves Moldova because they don’t like their salary, the roads, but when you come across something like this, and the law doesn’t do anything, what keeps you in this country anymore?” Igor wonders.
“There were about 14 people at the police station”
Andrian Camenscic, together with his family and godparents, were to be accommodated in the same hotel as the Spătaru family, Maria and Vasile’s family. The tourist package cost Andrian over 1,300 euros, money that he managed to collect with great difficulty, working abroad.
“We thought that this could not happen to us. We had the euphoria to see the sea. When I came at 9:00 in the morning, on August 19, it was written on a sheet on the door: `Everyone is at the police`. At the police station, when we went, there were about 14 people and the administrator. When I saw this, I understood that I was scammed,” Andrian remembers, mentioning that although the administrator of the company promised him the money back, “she keeps postponing me until she stopped answering. She says that she was lied to and that as soon as she returns the money, she returns it to us.”
After both his family and dozens of other families filed complaints with the police on behalf of the company, Adrian is outraged that no action has been taken and the company’s administrator continues to sell tourist packages.
“On Friday I and another person went to the police, to the investigator, which told us that we should not come there as they gather evidence and we only confuse them. What more evidence do they need? The evidence comes on its own. What are they waiting for? On the day we did not fly on August 19, she received the money from others and they did not fly too. People gave the money to fly in the evening. And I told them, “You will not fly, you’ll be at the police station with us tomorrow. And it happened as I said”, says Andrian.
“Sorry, you have to leave the hotel, she didn’t keep her word”
Not only those who chose Turkey as a destination were left without a vacation. The first vacation in Sorina’s life (name changed, e.n.) turned into a nightmare. After buying a travel package from the Travel & Party company for a holiday in Bulgaria, scheduled for early August, and after a few postponements, Sorina, along with her husband and one-year-old child, arrived at their destination. Soon, however, they were called urgently to the hotel reception, where they were informed that their accommodation had not been paid for. Respectively, the family contacted the administrator of the Moldovan company, who assured them that they would transfer the money for the stay until the next day. Meanwhile, the family was allowed to stay in the hotel, but with a ban on leaving the room.
“Okay, we started to be nervous, we and another family, as well, with a small child. We couldn’t sleep, we were always thinking about who we came across. We were told to come the next day, at 14.00, but not to leave the hotel, not to go to the sea, nor to the pool, just to wait in the room. We didn’t go out all this time and we couldn’t sleep. The next day, at 2 pm we go there and they say: “Sorry, you have to leave the hotel, she didn’t keep her word,” Sorina remembers.
While the family was told that they had to leave the hotel, the administrator of the Moldovan tourism company assured the woman that the payment had been made and that she had nothing to worry about, and even encouraged her to rest. The exhortations took place on the basis of the information presented to the family by the Bulgarian tourism company intermediary of the Moldovan company, which informed them that their stay was not paid and that the Moldovan company, in fact, has debts of almost 3,000 euros to them.
“I gave her the phone to talk to Mrs. Victoria (the administrator of the Moldovan company, e.n.) and they started arguing. She had a big debt. And they said that tourists have to leave, either you make the payment, or they have to leave. And she said she will arrange transportation for us,” the woman says.
“At least I want my money back. I’m not even talking about moral damages”
In Sorina’s family, only her husband works. They hardly gathered the amount of 1,300 euros to go on their first family vacation. Although, after they returned from Bulgaria, the administrator of the company assured them that he would return their money, and even wrote them with receipts with guarantees in this regard, the family did not receive the money back. “She keeps lying… that I don’t work today, but tomorrow at 9:00… and so on. I wanted a normal vacation, and … she didn’t even return my money. I’m not even talking about moral damages or that I didn’t leave the hotel, that I wasn’t at the sea, children crying,” says, sadly, Sorina.
The Neamțu family was also to arrive in Bulgaria. Their story begins in February 2020, when they booked a tour package through the company Travel & Party. But the pandemic turned their plans upside down, and the money they had paid to the company was never returned. This summer, however, the family agreed with the travel agency to go to sea, in Bulgaria, with the amount previously paid, plus the difference in amount for this year. In the end, the family paid the company a total of almost 800 euros and did not reach the sea.
“The lady treats very badly all the people, she is a scammer and you realize, all these families, some maybe with children, some may be without children. You realize, the day we had to leave, our luggage was ready, the child finds out that we are not leaving. He doesn’t understand that there are scams like this: “How come, mother, we don’t go to sea?” It was stress and … in the end, we were left without a vacation and without money. We were working for a year and, you know how, summer came, we wanted to go for a vacation, to rest, at least a little… ”, says, through tears, Tatiana (name changed, e.n.). ”I can’t afford another holiday, so the family has to wait until next year. We work at the state and it was a big sum for us to pay.”
Debt recovery in court
On the portal of national courts, there are several disputes involving the company Travel & Party, all concerning debts of the travel agency either to individuals or legal entities. The Straton family has been trying to do justice since 2020. After Nicolae Straton contracted the Travel & Party company in September 2020 for two tourist packages for his family and friends, they did not reach their destination. Nicolae took out of his pocket almost 2,000 euros, an amount that, until now, he has not been able to fully recover.
In an attempt to recover his money, the man reported it to the police, but the examination of the submitted application was stopped. The law enforcement bodies motivated their decision by the fact that “the dispute between you and the travel company Travel & Party has a civil character” and urged Nicolae to address the court. Thus, the family filed a lawsuit, but so far the process has not reached finality.
“I hope we will be able to get our money back. There are a lot of people. In this case, measures must be taken at a high level. It seems like they are covered by someone. It is a very large amount already. Probably someone in the shadows coordinating this. It simply can’t be that way. I tell you that I was accused of influence-peddling in 2017 and I am being tried so far, they have no evidence or anything and they have opened a criminal case against me, but this case is about colossal sums of money and nothing… I would fly out of this country. I may have had to leave a long time ago. The process is delayed and I don’t want after three years or more for someone to ask us what kind of money we are looking for,” Nicolae says.
ZdG also talked to people who contracted the company Travel & Party in 2019 to go on vacation and who did not reach their destination too. Although almost three years have passed, people have not recovered their money.
According to the people with whom ZdG discussed, who made a calculation of the contractual amounts paid by the people who found themselves in this situation, the total amount of damages is almost 100,000 euros.
Debts of the travel agency
The travel company Travel & Party was founded five years ago, in 2016, and is managed by Victoria and Valentin Vetrilă. According to the State Fiscal Service, the company has arrears from the state budget. According to the situation in 2019, the travel agency had a single employee and registered debts of about 50,000 euros.
According to the information on the social networks, the company operates on Mitropolitul Varlaam Street in the central sector of the capital. There, however, we find only an abandoned office that indicates that the agency has changed its location, as the panels with the old company name have been removed. From people’s reports, we find out that, currently, the company operates on Decebal Street in the Botanica sector of Chișinău, only that even there we found the door locked. We went to the legal address of the company, where, in fact, there is a house where, according to the neighbors, Victoria Vetrila’s mother lives, but no one opened it for us. Asked by phone, repeatedly, and informed by a message on the subject of the discussion, Victoria Vetrilă could not be found.
Police: There are other people who have been deceived by this travel agency
Police have opened a criminal case based on people’s complaints. ZdG tried to talk to the investigator Gheorghe Luchian, who registered the complaints, but he refused to provide information and directed us to the press service of the Chișinău Police Directorate. Thus, Svetlana Scripnic specified for ZdG that, on August 21, a criminal case was initiated and that, at this moment, investigative measures are being carried out.
“We will carry authorized searches and will establish all the circumstances to decide how the owner of the agency will be held accountable. So far, there are 30 people who have filed complaints, but there will be more. Most likely their number will increase because there are still people who have been deceived by this travel agency. An approximate calculation of the amount of damage, so far, is about 25,000 euros, but, obviously, the amount will increase, as long as people with complaints will address us,” said Svetlana Scripnic.