I received a phonecall on 11/03/2008, from a person who identified himself as Michael, from a company called Astar Travel, Tampa, Florida. He congratulated me on having won a holiday to Florida and a cruise to the Bahamas. He had my email and physical address and stated that I had won a competition that I had "entered". I have no recollection of having done such a thing.
Next I was transferred to a Mr Lenny Patram, ID 7194. He confirmed the above and added further details: The holiday was for 4 people and included 7days 6 nights in Orlando, 4 days 3 nights in Daytona Beach with a visit to the Kennedy Space Centre, and a 3 day cruise to the Bahamas, meals included. Also an optional 2 day 3 night visit to Las Vegas for 2. The total value of the prize was $3000. They would pay 70% and I would be responsible for only $998.
I was extremely sceptical. He kept on telling me to "pinch my face", that I was not dreaming, that I was the first South African to win and that it was real and not a scam or prank. I had asked him this several times. He told me repeatedly that I was coming to Florida and "welcome aboard, dear", and "bless you".
Next, he asked me for my credit card details. I told him that I was not willing to provide such information to a stranger over the phone. He persisted with high pressure sales talk. He gave me a VIP telephone number to call, to confirm the authenticity of the prize. I attempted to call, but was unable to get through on my cellphone, due to unactivated International roaming enablement, which I had forgotten about. All the time, while this was going on, he kept on reassuring me.
I should have disconnected then, but unfortunately for me, I did not. By then, he had reeled me in, so that I believed that he was telling the truth. I had no idea of the magnitude of the misrepresentation and scam.
I gave him my credit card details. He laughed and said:" See, I am still on the line after getting your credit card details. This prize is for real". He congratulated me and transferred me to the credit card verification department.
After that it gets blurry. I spoke to a Linda(?). She spoke extremely quickly, so that it was hard to follow. She mentioned several things that had not been broached by Michael or Mr Lenny Patram, such as: I would be responsible for all transport, including airfares (it had been implied that the prize was all inclusive, apart from the 20%),meals, taxes etc. The prize was worth $5000. I had to attend a timeshare presentation. Timeshare promotion had not been mentioned before.
Then she informed me that the $998 would be debited immediately. No-one had mentioned this. She spoke so fast and forcefully that I could not think, or respond rationally. She then said that the information would be emailed and posted to me. It was all over before I could realise what had happened.
I immediately called the VIP number. I got a voice saying that it is Astar Travel and that I should pres 1 for...The usual sort of procedure. Today I only get a fax signal.
She did send an email. Many of the details do not coincide with what I was told and there are a few surprises.
The South African currency is at an all time low against the dollar. I have lost a substantial amount of money. This puts my cashflow under severe pressure. In fact, I find myself in dire straits. I acknowledge that I was gullible, however Astar Travel, Michael and Mr Lenny Patram have a lot to answer for. I am not the first person to fall victim to their fraudulant activities. I certainly hope that justice will be done and that I recover my money. Also that they be stopped from hurting other people.