10 people lose over $6,000 after buying travel packages online in suspected scam

"Alvin", a purported sales consultant from "FL Holidays", had sent victims a detailed itinerary for a travel package to Kundasang, Sabah. PHOTO: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS

SINGAPORE - At least 10 people have been allegedly duped into paying more than $6,000 in total to an online travel agency for what appears to be sham travel packages.

One of the alleged victims, who wanted to be known only as Ms Cheng, told The Straits Times that she saw an advertisement by “FL Holidays” on Facebook in March, promoting travel packages to Kundasang in Sabah.

The 52-year-old, who works in sales, messaged the company directly. Soon after, a sales consultant who gave his name as “Alvin” contacted her on WhatsApp and sent information about the travel package, complete with itinerary, flight and accommodation details.

The Malaysian, who has been working in Singapore for around three decades, thought it was a good deal. “A typical flight to Penang costs around $100. But these air tickets to Sabah were cheaper.”

As this was the first time she had booked a holiday through a Facebook ad, she kept her guard up and asked Alvin if this was a scam.

“Alvin sent us his company’s address in Sabah. When we asked why there was no Singapore address, he reassured us that his company was doing business in many places, and would not ‘run away’.”

He sent her a list of people who had apparently joined the tour, and urged Ms Cheng to pay soon so that the company could buy flight tickets. Eventually, she paid $678 for a three-night travel package for two people.

Alvin promised to send the tickets through e-mail, but they never arrived. When questioned, he said the company did not buy the tickets and promised full compensation within the next 35 days.

But Ms Cheng said she has not received a cent, and is now unable to contact him.

At least nine others have also claimed to be victims, said Ms Cheng. They have started a group chat to discuss their next steps.

Mr Ng, 28, who declined to reveal his full name, told ST that he had responded to the same Facebook ad in April. He thought it was legitimate after seeing that the ad had attracted a few hundred comments.

Alvin also gave him detailed information about the travel package. “It all looked so real,” said Mr Ng.

The Malaysian, who is working in the food and beverage industry here, said it was his first time booking a trip online. “I’ve bought concert tickets online before, and it went smoothly... I thought I was far from being scammed.”

Within three days, Alvin pressed him to pay $478 for a two-night trip for two people, saying slots for the package were running out.

When Mr Ng grew suspicious about paying upfront, Alvin quickly assured him: “We’re all Malaysians, I won’t scam you.”

A week later, Alvin claimed that the slots were full, and asked if Mr Ng could change his travel dates to June. Mr Ng chose a refund instead but was later unable to contact him. After he read about Ms Cheng’s similar experience in a Shin Min Daily News report on Tuesday, he alerted the police.

Mr Ng had paid an unknown woman, who said she was Alvin’s agent, through PayNow. Other victims said they were told to make payment to bank accounts with various names, including “Dan Clothing” and “Almatic Trading Import and Export”.

Receipts issued by FL Holidays that were seen by ST listed an address in Sabah. The company has taken down its Facebook page. Attempts to reach its WhatsApp numbers and e-mail went unanswered.

The police said they have received reports regarding the matter and are investigating.

In an advisory in 2022, the police said the public should check with the Singapore Tourism Board and the National Association of Travel Agents whether a vendor is an accredited travel agent, and buy air tickets only from authorised sellers or reputable sources.

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