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Travel agent suspected of fraud files for bankruptcy

Posted: 3:07 PM, Nov 18, 2019
Updated: 2019-11-20 17:18:38-05

BALTIMORE — An unbelievable cruise deal turned out to be just that. Hundreds of customers who booked "buy one, get one free" cruises with Hopkins Travel Services were notified by the cruise line that their trips had been canceled due to suspicious credit card activity.

RELATED: Federal authorities investigating cruise travel agency

Norwegian Cruise Line started issuing refunds in September, however, not all customers were reimbursed, and those who were charged directly by the travel agency have encountered more challenges.

RELATED: Cruise line claims travel agent committed credit card fraud

On October 28, 2019, Diana Hopkins of Hopkins Travel Services filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Among the various consumer debts listed by Hopkins, she disclosed losing $22,000 from gambling in 2018. She also disclosed that her business generates around $6,600 a month in income, but is valued at nothing.

"Unfortunately, it means getting money is going to be tough," said Phillip Chalker, an attorney with the Law Office of Phillip E. Chalker.

Chalker recommends consumers in this case, and similar situations, first file a dispute with their credit card company. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, consumers have the right to dispute charges on their credit card that they didn't make or are incorrect, or for goods or services they didn't receive.

"If the dispute is unsuccessful, you have two options: You can go seek an attorney or you can reach out to a government organization such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau who can then lodge another dispute with your credit card company on your behalf," Chalker said.

Another option would be to file a claim against Hopkins' performance bond. In Florida, sellers of travel are required to be bonded up to $25,000, and in some cases, $50,000. According to a spokesperson with the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, Hopkins Travel Services had a bond of only $10,000. The claim process can also take a few months to complete. The business must maintain a bond during the claim process, if the bond is exhausted through consumer claims then the license would no longer be active. To file a complaint with the department, click here to access the form and checklist of necessary documents .

"Considering there are numerous individuals that were victimized by this travel agent, they would be competing with every other person that was victimized for a refund through this bond," Chalker said.

WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii also learned that in August, consumers were encouraged to pay with cash after Hopkins implemented a 3 percent processing fee for credit cards.

"For the people that paid cash, the best thing you can do is file a lawsuit," said Chalker.

Lawsuits cost money, and now that Hopkins is in bankruptcy proceedings, even if you win, you may not get what you're owed.

As far as the cruise line's liability in allowing this to happen, Chalker said they may not have violated any laws, but it's a bad look.

"Norwegian Cruise Line probably should've been aware of this much earlier than they were," said Chalker.

WMAR-2 News contacted various credit card companies about their dispute policy timeframes, and how the policies would apply in this situation. Their responses are below. This story will be updated with more responses.

American Express:
Merchants can find details about our dispute policy here.

For merchants, the window to receive a dispute is 120 days from the transaction date. However, the timeframes can be extended in circumstances where goods or services were not received.

More information for Card Members can be found here.

Bank of America:
WMAR-2 News reached out. We're waiting to hear back.

Capital One:
WMAR-2 News reached out. We're waiting to hear back.

Chase:
We always want to work with our customers to investigate and help find resolutions on disputes. Our ability to advocate on our customers behalf is influenced by industry guidelines, including guidelines around timelines. We always advise cardmembers to inform Chase as soon as any potential issue arises, and we will work with you.

Citibank:
As outlined in our card agreement , a customer has 60 days to contact us after an error appeared on a statement. We then initiate an investigation and communicate the findings of such to the cardmember.

Discover:
Each dispute is different we’d have to evaluate based on additional details from customers in this situation to confirm the handling.

Wells Fargo:
In general, Wells Fargo would not deny a credit card dispute for timeliness. We encourage customers to refer to their Account Agreement, monthly billings statements and associated credit card Terms and Conditions, for specific scenarios and information about how they can dispute transactions. Cardholders should promptly report disputed charges online or by calling Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. They can also dispute transactions in writing.

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