Florida accuses three more travel agencies — wait, make that six more agencies — of selling unlicensed insurance

by Christopher Elliott on March 2, 2010


Looks like Palm Coast Travel has company. Florida regulators have filed charges against three more travel agencies as part of their expanding probe of unlicensed insurance offered through defunct Prime Travel Protection. (Three more agencies were added to the list at the end of today; see update at the end of this post.)

Ahoy Cruises of Jacksonville, Fla., JB Travel of Boynton Beach, Fla., and St. Lucie West Travel of Port St. Lucie, Fla., are accused by the state’s Department of Financial Services of violating several insurance-related statues — or, put differently, of selling fake travel insurance.

This is an important story, because bogus “trip protection” policies are known to have been sold to people across the country for years, potentially costing travelers millions of dollars in lost vacations.

Like Palm Coast Travel, which does business online as Smartcruiser.com, the agencies have the option of either not disputing the state’s findings, which could result in sanctions and a suspension of their licenses, or of contesting Florida’s findings in and administrative hearing.

Palm Coast Travel is contesting Florida’s allegations. A hearing before an administrative law judge is scheduled for April 8.

(Palm Coast Travel is suing me in an apparent attempt to stop me from writing about the company. Perhaps these agencies would care to join the suit?)

The state says Ahoy Cruises sold one of its customers — described as “M.G.” — a cruise with fake insurance in November, 2007.

Subsequent to the purchase, M.G, had to cancel her trip due to medical reasons. A travel insurance claim was filed, which has not been resolved,

Neither Prime Travel Protection, Inc., nor its related entities have ever held a license or Certificate of Authority to transact insurance in Florida.

You, AHOY CRUISES, directly or indirectly acted as agent for or otherwise represented or aided one or more unauthorized insurers, including but not limited to Prime Travel Protection, Inc.

Florida regulators also allege JB Travel, which also does business online as JBcruises.com, sold a customer named S.R. 16 travel packages, which included “travel insurance” for him and his family.

The aforementioned transactions of insurance were handled by one or more travel consultants for JB TRAVEL, who were not licensed as travel insurance agents at the time.

Pedro Oliveira was of the unlicensed travel agents. At the time, Mr. Oliveira was not licensed or appointed as a (2-41) travel insurance agent.

Subsequent to the purchase, the two or more of S.R.’s family had to cancel their trips due to medical reasons. Travel insurance claims were filed, which have not been paid.

Prime Travel Protection, Inc. has never held a license or Certificate of Authority to transact insurance in Florida.

The state contends JB Travel “directly or indirectly” acted as agent for or otherwise represented or aided one or more unauthorized insurers, including but not limited to Prime Travel Protection.

Florida regulators also claim St. Lucie West Travel sold Prime Travel Protection to several customers. In one count, it alleges the agency sold Prime Travel Protection to two individuals, “V.” and “J.B.”

Subsequent to the purchase, V. and J.B. had to cancel their trip due to medical reasons. A travel insurance claim was filed, which has not been resolved.

Neither Prime Travel Protection, Inc., nor its related entities have ever held a license or Certificate of Authority to transact insurance in Florida.

You, ST. LUCIE WEST TRAVEL, directly or indirectly acted as agent for or otherwise represented or aided one or more unauthorized insurers, including but not limited to Prime Travel Protection, Inc.

(A second count, involving “D.” and “MJ.C.” levels similar charges against St. Lucie West.)

These differ from the allegations made against Palm Coast Travel in one important respect: None of them contend a customer purchased a legitimate insurance policy that was swapped out for a fake one. (Florida alleges that at least two Palm Coast customers were sold Access America policies, but that the policies were eventually moved to Prime Travel Protection — an action that, if true, would carry a series of harsher penalties.)

More notices are expected to be filed by Florida regulators, perhaps as soon as this week.

Update (6:30 p.m.): That was fast!. DFS just filed charges against two more agencies — a two-count notice against Four Seasons Tours and Cruises in Largo, Fla. and a seven-count notice against Diana’s Travel South of Spring Hill, Fla.

Update (7:30 p.m.): Here’s a straggler, against Sandra Demore of Port Orange, Fla. (PDF). Now it’s a party.

It’s getting crowded in there.

Chris’ original post is on Elliott.com. It has many more links to PDFs for further research.

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  • http:horizon.unc.edu James Morrison

    I see that a number of travel companies offer travel insurance. How do you protect yourself against purchasing phoney insurance?

  • http://www.crusing-along.com Laura Vucich

    Make sure that you are dealing with a truly reputible company. Always ask for a copy of the overview so that you can assure yourself that the insurance and insurer are legitimate and if you still have questions, call the insurer direct and make sure that the company that is selling it to you is properly licensed and legitimate. You also have a specified number of days to view the policy and cancel if you don’t wish to keep it., I always provide mjy clients with an overview which has an 800# on it so they can call and ask the company direct if they have any questions.

  • Harry Baxter

    No one can guarantee that you won’t get sold a bad product, but following these steps will provide you with some degree of protection.

    Don’t buy insurance from the cruiseline, or from the Travel Agent selling you the cruise. I’d especially avoid buying the product from those agencies who have been cited by specific states for selling illegal insurance, but don’t assume that these guys are the only companies that sold the product. There are hundreds more.

    Buy from companies like Insuremytrip.com, squaremouth.com and tripinsurancestore.com. They will provide competitive quotes from nationally recognized legal travel insurance companies.

    Pick from among these companies, but check on their BBB ratings and the ratings of their underwriters.

  • Sherri

    Mr. Baxter’s comment to not purchase from a travel agent that is selling you the trip is not worthy advise. Most travel agents are reputable and their licenses can be verified with the State Dept of Insurance. A travel agent normally offeres several kinds of insurance policies and can help the customer decide which is best for their particular trip. If you do not know a travel agent then find one through your friends, that has used the agent before. The best advice is to know who you are purchasing from by getting face-to-face or from a referral no matter what you are purchasing.

  • http://www.singleparenttravel.net John Frenaye

    I agree that Mr. Baxter’s advice misses the point. A consumer needs to know the difference (and ask) between insurance and a trip cancellation waiver.

    Insurance will be underwritten by a surety. The cost will typically be based on the cost of the trip and your age. If it is a flat fee, it likely is not a true insurance product. Part of the issue is that agents tend to confuse the two as well since the vendors will encourge sales of their “insurance product” . The term insurance seems to be a handy catch all phrase. Ask and verify that it is truly insurance.

    With an overview, it will likely not lay out all the excvlusions. Ask for a link to the insurer’s website or ask to be provided a copy of the POLICY–not the sales brochure.

    And finally, NO travel insurance needs to be purchased at the time of deposit. Don;t be pressured. Most policies require binding the policy within 7 to 10 days of the initial deposit if you are looking for some additional benefits–like pre-existing condition coverage. But you are able to purchase a policy up to the day of final payment (for sure) and sometimes up to the day of departure.

    Agents are indeed licensed to sell the product in the states where required. But consumers need to be smart.

  • http://gravitygarden.com/why-we-need-insurance/ Gravity Gardener

    Some people look at vacation travel insurance as a way to mitigate the risks of unpredictable situations that can disrupt their travel schedule. This type of insurance is available to anyone who wants peace of mind that they will be compensated if anything does crop up that may cause their plans to be derailed.

    Here are several areas that may warrant the purchase of vacation travel insurance:

    1. Trip Cancellation or Interruption
    2. Flight Connection was missed due to airline schedule
    3. Travel Delays due to weather
    4. Medical Emergency and hospital care (Accident or Sickness)
    5. Baggage Delay or Loss

    As indicated above, any of these situations can occur during your travel schedule and can become very disruptive to your vacation plans.If you have ever heard of a flight being canceled without notice or multitudes of passengers on a cruise ship experiencing a widespread illness, you know that it can happen to anyone. Those that have the foresight to take out travel insurance will still experience the disruption, but will be compensated based on their policy.

    Gravity Gardener

    http://gravitygarden.com/why-we-need-insurance/vacation-travel-insurance.html

  • Dave Miner

    @Sherri; @John Frenaye
    Here’s a vital point that you missed regarding Mr. Baxter’s post:

    Buying insurance from a Travel Agent just introduces another link in the chain, and complicates your purchase. Sure, you can check on whether your travel agent has a license to sell insurance, but why bother? The owner of Legendary Journeys has a license to sell travel insurance. He also has a “C” rating with the BBB, and has sold a succession of illegal insurance products. Additionally, why should you ask your travel agent to “help you decide which insurance policy is best for you?”. If your travel agent offers a policy which pays him a 40% commission, and another policy which pays him a 10% commission, guess which one he would recommend. There are several websites, including insuremytrip, squaremouth, and tripinsurancestore which allow you to compare offerings from multiple LEGAL insurance vendors. You can do a side-by-side comparison, and pick the one that best fits your needs. If you have a question, you can get an answer before you purchase the policy, and you can also cancel within ten of 15 days after you buy the policy, and get a full refund. You won’t pay any more for the policy than you’d pay if you purchased it from your travel agent, and best of all, NONE of these companies has, to my knowledge, ever sold an illegal travel insurance policy!
    Asking your travel agent to recommend an insurance policy is like asking your electrician to recommend a new plumbing system. It’s not a smart idea. Don’t do it.

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