Travellers taken for a rideComment on this story
Durban - A Durban media personality and a bank fraud expert are among a string of victims of an alleged holiday scam that left travellers stranded at destinations like Bangkok, after fleecing them of hundreds of thousands of rand.
The media personality, who asked not to be named, had booked a holiday with Destinations Worldwide for R53 000 to travel to Bangkok with his family of four, only to learn the day before their flight in December that no bookings had been made.
He is one of at least six people who have laid charges of fraud against Nassira Limbada who works for Destinations Worldwide and its director Fuad Hassen Bhamjee. Several victims said Limbada had promised to pay them back if they withdrew charges.
Bhamjee said on Friday night that the company had been “defrauded” and he had referred the matter to his attorney. He said he would refund the customers.
The follows on the heels of the closure of Harvey World Travel Gateway in Durban where customers found they had no holiday bookings after paying tens of thousands of rand to the agency.
Earlier this year, The Independent on Saturday ran a story on Tammy Cook, who allegedly double-booked cottages in Salt Rock and fleeced a string of holidaymakers of R80 000. She has been arrested and released on R5 000 bail.
The media personality said his family was packed and ready to travel when they discovered there were no bookings.
“My family is really hurt. The morning before we were supposed to fly, I phoned the airline to get a bassinet for my baby and found out we were not booked,” he said. His parents-in-law had paid an additional R38 000 to join them.
Neil Oosthuizen of Joburg, was taking 25 people on tour to Bangkok. He was told while standing in the queue at OR Tambo International Airport that the travel voucher reference numbers he had were invalid. He had paid R176 000 for the trip.
“Everyone was enthusiastic. And when I said we’re not flying they were furious. They wanted to kill me and said they would sue me,” Oosthuizen said.
Oosthuizen bought air tickets for the next day and put everyone up in a hotel for the night.
He received a frantic call on Christmas Day from another victim who said his parents were stranded at the airport in Bangkok and that there were no return tickets.
Oosthuizen claimed Limbada had promised him R70 000 if he dropped the fraud charge.
Warda Maasdorp, who combats financial crime for a financial institution, was fleeced of R160 000 after booking a holiday to Kuala Lumpur. A family member had recommended the company.
“The method of booking was similar to previous agents we had used, so nothing seemed suspicious. But then we started to get concerned about the travel vouchers and documentation,” Maasdorp said. “We made several calls and it was confirmed all documentation was fake,” Maasdorp said.
Toyer Williams had booked through Destinations Worldwide to travel to Kuala Lumpur and Phuket with his wife for R42 000.
“A week before we didn’t have our tickets and visas. I phoned the hotels and realised there were no bookings. It was a big disappointment. They gave us a letter saying they are putting their house up for sale and the intent is to pay us from the proceeds if we drop the case, but I’m not interested,” Williams said.
Maasdorp and Williams laid fraud charges and lodged a complaint with the Association of South African Travel Agents.
Rashid van Schalk paid R45 000 for a trip to Malaysia and for his children to fly to Cape Town but the company had not booked the tickets. He also opened a case of fraud.
Limbada could not be reached on her cellphone or office numbers on Friday. Bhamjee said this was because the company had decided to close “until all of this is over”.
“We were told not to operate because people were complaining that we are still in business. We didn’t take anyone’s money. We were defrauded,” Bhamjee said.
Asked if he would refund customers Bhamjee said, “of course”. He declined to comment further saying the matter was subjudice.
The International Air Transport Association (Iata) confirmed that Destinations Worldwide’s accreditation with the association, which allows agencies to issue airline tickets, had been withdrawn in 2010.
Asata chief executive Otto de Vries said the industry was not regulated.
“However, accreditation with Iata is desirable. It means a travel agent can issue tickets within their offices.”
He said that because Destinations Worldwide was not a member, the association was unable to mediate in the complaints.
KZN SAPS spokesman Colonel Vincent Mdunge confirmed that a case of fraud had been opened at Durban North police station.
It was still under investigation.
Gauteng SAPS had not responded to questions at the time of going to print on Friday night.
Independent on Saturday