Unlicensed travel agency leaves Oshawa couple stranded at airport

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Imagine traveling all the way to the airport, bags packed, tickets in hand for a dream vacation to the Caribbean only to find your trip was fraudulently booked.

That’s what happened to an Oshawa couple, who say they are out $1,700 after booking an all-inclusive trip to Jamaica through Sunshine Travel.

Martin Arts told CityNews he spotted an ad in the Toronto Sun offering half-priced vacations. Arts says he paid for the trip by e-transfer and received tickets with the Sunwing logo and a booking reference number.

But when the Artses showed up at the airport last Saturday for an afternoon flight, there was no record of their booking with Sunwing.

“I called (Sunwing) and that’s when they told me the tickets were cancelled due to a problem with the Visa they used,” said Arts. “I was flabbergasted, I couldn’t believe it.”

In a statement to CityNews, Sunwing confirmed the booking was made using a fraudulent credit card.

“Unfortunately it would appear that someone posing as a travel agent has defrauded these customers,” Sunwing said.

Arts then learned Sunshine Travel is not licensed with the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO), the consumer travel watchdog which governs travel retailers and wholesalers.

“They had an advertisement that had the TICO logo on it and a registration number, but the reference number that they provided had nothing to do with the company in question,” said TICO CEO Richard Smart. “So basically they used someone else’s registration number.”

Smart added the agency has received one complaint about Sunshine Travel and has put an advisory up on its website asking for more victims to come forward.

Smart said Sunshine Travel could face charges under the Travel Industry Act, which provides for fines of up to $50,000 for individuals and $250,000 for corporations — and up to two years in jail. If a licensed travel agency fails to provide a service, victims can also apply for compensation of up to $5,000.

“Unfortunately, and this is a painful pill for some consumers who book through unregistered businesses, that compensation does not apply,” explained Smart. “However all is not lost. If in the end we charge the business with being unlicensed or unregistered, we can take them to court and the courts can provide for restitution to the consumer.”

Smart says the only way to make sure you’re protected is by checking the company’s registration number on TICO’s website.

Postmedia, which owns the Toronto Sun, says it was informed by TICO that Sunshine Travel is an unregistered agency and it has advised its advertising departments across the country not to accept any further bookings from the company.