Hundreds of Australian travellers who spent $200,000 on cheap flights and holiday deals have been left stranded by their Facebook travel agency.
The WA government’s Consumer Protection office says it has been “unable to secure refunds” for some 210 complainants who booked with Travel 2 Go and No Frills Travel.
Customers either could not get plane tickets for their desired dates or were asked to pay extra money. Some flew to their destination but found they were not booked on return flights as expected.
Nicole Bromage and Jacklene Torr, who operated under the unregistered business names, originally committed to paying back customers in negotiations with the government agency but have failed to produce the funds.
Commissioner for Consumer Protection Penny Lipscombe said an investigation is now underway, which limits what information can be publicised.
“In August 2019 consumer protection saw an increase in complaints from consumers who had purchased discount return flights – Perth to Bali for $99 for example – via a travel agent on Facebook, and then not been able to get seats on a plane,” she said.
“This escalated and consumer protection attended a public meeting of about 100 affected consumers in South Yunderup on 7 September 2019.
“We now have in excess of 210 complaints with a total dollar value of more than $200,000. This includes some people who have bought cruises or package holidays.
“Our conciliation officers have been working hard to try to achieve a satisfactory outcome for the complainants in this case but it is not always possible to secure refunds and there is no guarantee goods or services will be provided.
“Whether or not consumer protection is successful in conciliation depends on factors including a trader’s willingness to participate in the process and the financial situation – funds may not be available.”
The commissioner said the department would contact all the complainants to inform them no refunds were forthcoming and advise them to seek a magistrate’s court order for money owed.
“We recommend customers do not pay additional money in a bid to secure flights or holidays,” she added.
Lipscombe said it was a disappointing outcome but did not signal the end of the matter.
“If a business has allegedly made false and misleading representations or failed to provide goods or services as promised and within the timeframe specified, Consumer Protection can investigate potential breaches of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL),” she said
“So, even though attempts to seek redress for consumers may not work out, we have investigators who can then take over and look at alleged non-compliance with the ACL.
“While any such investigation is underway we are restricted as to what we can say publicly for legal reasons. What I can confirm is that this particular situation has been raised with the WA Police major fraud squad.”
The commissioner has urged affected consumers who have not yet lodged a complaint to do so, using the online form at www.consumerprotection.wa.gov.au.