Last updated: 11:55 AM ET, Fri October 21 2016

Impostor Travel Agent Pulls Off Epic UK Cruise Scam: Could This Happen in the US?

Impacting Travel Lisa Iannucci October 20, 2016

Impostor Travel Agent Pulls Off Epic UK Cruise Scam: Could This Happen in the US?

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

One ex-nurse in Torrington, Devon, finally had an opportunity to travel the world for free. Unfortunately for her, the eight luxury cruise vacations she took landed her in jail.

Kay Hooper set up a fake travel agency, Travel Connections, all because Norwegian Cruise Line bumped her off a cruise when she lost her passport in Rome. Hooper wanted revenge against the cruise lines and concocted an elaborate scheme so she would travel for free, using an online form to obtain an American British Travel Association number in February of last year.

She then took that number and used it to book 54 cruises on ships including the Norwegian Spirit, Norwegian Epic and Norwegian Star. She never paid a deposit, claiming her business was part of the Freedom Travel Group, a subsidiary of Thomas Cook.

Her fraud was successful for a little while, with Hooper booking penthouse accommodations and taking up to 10-day cruises on Norwegian to the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Bermuda and Canada. The cruises were worth more than $67,800 in U.S. dollars.

Tammy Levent of Elite Travel said that this con would never have happened with the travel agents in the United States. “Their laws in England are different than ours,” she said. “It was because she told them that she was with Freedom Travel as part of Thomas Cook, they probably have a different payment agreement and terms.”

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Levent said that where this failed is that the agent or person at the cruise line did not confirm her claims that she was with Thomas Cook, which is a legitimate agency. “In reality, she basically lied and got away with it,” said Levent. “She created the travel agency and that was legit. She just lied about her host or who she worked with. It will never happen here. I know everyone who books a trip under my name.”

Hooper was jailed for 20 months, suspended for two years and given a six-month curfew. Norwegian had originally compensated her for her situation in Rome.

According to Erika Richter, director of communications for the American Society of Travel Agents, ASTA does not provide numbers for their members or anything that would grant special privileges with suppliers.

“Over the past few years we’ve seen the travel industry rapidly evolve,” said Richter. “And, unfortunately, there aren’t many barriers to entry when it comes to becoming a travel agent. That’s why all travelers using an agent should look for the ASTA logo.”

Richter also said that there is a Code of Ethics that is enforced among all of its members. “And to go a step further, we recently launched a “Business Integrity and Ethical Standards Course” designed to address the key ethical issues impacting travel agents,” she said. “Covered topics include agency relationships, fiduciary duties, legal compliance, and dispute resolution. To consumers, the ASTA logo is synonymous with trust, and adding this course to our existing Code of Ethics will help drive that message home.”

Hooper is now being sued by the cruise company and has offered to repay Norwegian out of her pension and benefits.