BALTIMORE — Nearly two years after their cruises were cancelled, customers of Hopkins Travel Services are learning they’re potential victims of a crime.
The FBI Tampa Field Office recently sent victim notification letters to a “large number of possible victims” identifying Hopkins Travel Services (HTS) as a business that allegedly operated a fraud scheme between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2019.
In the alleged scheme, victims used the travel service to book and pay for cruises, but HTS applied the victims payments to other clients travel or used payments for other purposes.
Karen Regan is one of the potential victims. She booked a cruise through Hopkins Travel Services that was scheduled to set sail this weekend.
“May 2nd, coming up,” said Regan.
But shortly after making the arrangements in 2019, Regan learned that the trip at the discounted rate her and 120 of her friends had all paid was no longer happening.
“Everything was legit. Our reservations were on the Norwegian Cruise Line website when we looked up our account, it was all there. And we all made our full payments and then we got cancelled,” said Regan.
The travel agent, Diana Hopkins, is accused of committing credit card fraud and using other people's cards to pay the full balance for customer's trips.
Norwegian Cruise Line caught on and cancelled all her trips, impacting hundreds of people including many from Maryland.
“She was from Dundalk, went to high school with another group I knew going on the cruise, so it wasn’t her scamming random strangers, she was scamming her own friends, her high school friends,” said Regan.
After people learned of the alleged fraud, some passengers were able to get refunds. Others are still fighting.
“The 120 people I had in my group, everybody got their money back, but there are hundreds of people still out thousands of dollars,” said Regan.
And for months, they've heard nothing until recently.
“I was hoping to hear from them a long time ago, but you know, better late than never, I guess,” said Regan.
The FBI letter instructs potential victims to fill out an online questionnaire and provides a case email address.
“First and foremost, contact with victims is important in terms of building the investigation,” said Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Jonathan Lenzner.
U.S. Attorney Lenzner is not involved in the case, but he knows the process..
“In many cases, we seek restitution on behalf of the victims. It’s important for us to be in contact with victims of a fraud scheme so we can ensure victims are made whole at the end of a case,” said Lenzner.
No charges have been filed, according to online federal court records, however, Lenzner said that's not uncommon. Evidence gathering including corroborating victims accounts and financial statements takes time.
“Unfortunately, many fraud schemes in general can take many months even years to investigate and then if charges are brought, a criminal prosecution can last a year or multiple years,” said Lenzner.
WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii asked Lenzner if there's anything victims can take away from the timing of the FBI's letter.
"I would not read too far into the timing of when law enforcement contacts victims or alleged victims, every investigation is different and there may be a whole number of factors that play into when law enforcement in general contacts victims," Lenzner responded.
Lenzner added that victims have a right to contact law enforcement for an update, however, the FBI may not be able to provide any additional information.
A spokeswoman with FBI Tampa sent WMAR-2 News the statement below:
"While I cannot comment on specifics of an investigation, please remind your viewers that if they ever receive a victim statement letter from the FBI to follow the directions provided."
Sofastaii also tried contacting Hopkins for comment on this report. She did not immediately respond.