People who signed up to win a free vacation at the Vancouver Pride Festival Aug 3 received phone calls Aug 12 from a group that identified itself at least once as “Vancouver Pride.”
Representatives of Imperial Cruise Vacations then asked Pride goers for their credit card numbers to charge a $299-per-person promotional fee to secure a luxury trip to the Bahamas.
A google search on the company’s telephone number uncovered hundreds of complaints from other people who had received similar calls from Imperial Cruise Vacations, including people who had attended Toronto Pride in July.
When contacted by Xtra West, representatives from the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) launched an immediate investigation.
Within a few hours, the VPS received three additional reports from people who received similar calls, and posted the following advisory on its website:
“It has come to our attention that ‘Vacation and Cruise’ or ‘Imperial Cruise Vacations,’ one of the Pride Festival Vendors, offered a chance to win a free vacation by filling out a form. This information is now being used as part of a telemarketing program to offer a trip at a reduced cost and are asking for credit card information,” the VPS website states.
“We have been told that this group is representing themselves as being from Vancouver Pride but the Vancouver Pride Society has no affiliation with this group known as ‘Vacation and Cruise’ or ‘Imperial Cruise Vacations.’
“For your protection and security, the VPS highly recommends that you do not give out your credit card information to this organization,” the advisory concludes.
Despite repeated calls, no one from Imperial Cruise Vacations could be reached for comment.
Mark Fernandes, a communications person with the Better Business Bureau in Vancouver, confirmed that Imperial Cruise Vacations, also known as Imperial Majesty Cruiselines and Ramada Plaza Resorts, has received 1150 consumer complaints in the last three years. The BBB in Florida, where the company is based, has given it a failing grade of F.
“Sometimes what seems like a great free promotion isn’t necessarily free at all,” Fernandes says. “If you’re supposedly winning something for free, why would you have to provide your credit card information or any kind of billing information?”
Fernandes encourages the public to take the time to read the fine print, even at something fun like Pride.
VPS treasurer Ken Coolen contacted Imperial and says the company maintains it’s running a legitimate business and that there is nothing criminal about making phone calls. Const Jana McGuinness of the Vancouver Police Department warns that the police department’s hands are often tied in these situations where a company has secured private information from willing participants.
“If a person gives their number out voluntarily then it becomes much harder to prove a fraud,” McGuinness says. “Best advice is to not give your credit card number out online or over the phone unless you can be absolutely sure that the organization you are dealing with is reputable.”
As for Imperial Cruise Vacations allegedly misrepresenting itself as Vancouver Pride, Coolen admits, “It becomes a situation we can’t really control.”