FORT MYERS, Fla. - Who doesn't want to win a beautiful vacation in the Bahamas? But don't pack your bags just yet. A WINK News Call for Action Investigation found one vacation contest where it seems everyone is both a winner and a loser.
We found contest boxes popping up around town linked to the company Fifth Avenue Vacations. If you enter, you're automatically both a winner and a loser. We sent several of our producers to enter the contest. They filled out their names and information then dropped the entry card in the box. Our Chief Investigator Melissa Yeager also entered. A little more than a week later, the phones started ringing.
First, our producer Victoria was a winner! Next, our producer Amber was a winner! Last, our Chief investigator got the call that she, too, was a winner.
The message they all received on their phones set a deadline for claiming the prize and said the recipient needed to get the details of the trip by calling another phone number. That number had a 12-minute-long message and ended with a big red flag: "winners" have to pay nearly $100 in fees just to get the voucher to book.
We investigated Fifth Avenue Vacations and found dozens of complaints online. Most of the complaints state that people are not getting what they paid for. Here is an example of one of those complaints we found:
"They transferred me to a voice mail that talks about how the Bahamas is duty free therefore you have to pay a $119.00 fee on top of the 89.99 to keep them duty free. Now I kind of feel like I should have researched more. Before even getting to the island me and my significant other will have paid $400.00."
"Don't fall for it. I did about a month ago and I still haven't received anything... $90 down the drain."
We also couldn't locate a valid business license for Fifth Avenue Vacations, so we called the company. Over the phone, the Operations Manager claimed they are licensed and bonded even though we couldn't find state records proving that.
He also told us that everyone gets a hotel stay on the Bahamas, they just have to pay to get on transportation in order to get there.
We found that the Better Business Bureau has received so many complaints about this "free" vacation, they've put a warning on their website.
"We receive a lot of complaints about that," said Better Business Bureau attorney, John Zajac. "Generally about people signing up for a cruise or any other kind of vacation offer and being surprised at additional fees or that the offer can't be scheduled for whatever reason."
Zajac also says beware of red flags like high-pressure sales tactics.
"Customers need to understand that there isn't a pressure to sign up for that deal right then and there. Whether it's coming from phone, mail or email, don't be a victim. Step back and make an education decision about the offer," he explained.
So check out the company first. Look at things like how long the company has been in business and if they have any complaints. Only pay with a credit card so you can get your money back if you don't get what you paid for. Make sure that you get confirmation from the company and the cruise line itself, and look out for scams that use names similar to reputable companies.
It's not just contests that can put a claim on your money, it's also deals submitted via fax and email. Another Call for Action viewer sent in a fax that came to her work machines offering cheap cruises. Here's the red flag on those: they keep increasing the charges and they want your bank account number.