Traveller forced to pay twice for honeymoon

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By CARLY HELFAND

Cape Town - Plenty of newlyweds have learned the hard way that a dream honeymoon doesn’t always go according to plan – none more so than Brigette Benson-Muller, of Table View, whose problems started three months before she was even scheduled to leave.

Benson-Muller is among five people who have accused Parklands travel agent Caryn Boswell of being responsible for dashing their travel dreams, allegedly taking their money in exchange for fake bookings.

Boswell, who is in Dubai, failed to respond to an e-mail request for comment at the time of going to press, but Table View detective Desmon November confirmed that he was investigating two charges against Boswell.

“I do believe that more charges will follow,” he said.

Benson-Muller said that she booked tickets for her honeymoon trip to Bali through Boswell, who ran Studio Travel in Parklands, last August. She paid R36 540 for airfare and Boswell delivered her tickets and itinerary.

But in December, she said, she got a call from the operator with whom Boswell made the booking, who told her the funds were never transferred, and asked whether she was still interested in going on the trip.

That’s when Benson-Muller learnt that the tickets were fake, and that it was going to be a very difficult job to find Boswell.

“I couldn’t get a hold of her phone number or address, but she would haphazardly contact me via remote means, like an e-mail or Skype message or BBM message.”

When Benson-Muller began digging deeper, she found there were others who had fallen victim to the same scam.

The Weekend Argus spoke to five people who also alleged that Boswell took their money in exchange for fake bookings.

Benson-Muller is trying to rebook her honeymoon and she acknowledges that it could have been worse.

 

“I was fortunate in that the operator picked up on it and called me so that I didn’t arrive at the counter ready to go on honeymoon. What a disaster that would have been,” she said.

 

Others, like Gardens resident Annika Ziehen, were not so lucky. Ziehen was on her way back from Morocco in August last year on a round-trip ticket that Boswell had booked when she was told at two different airports that her seats – from Marrakesh to Casablanca and from Casablanca to Cape Town via Istanbul – had been reserved but not confirmed or paid for. To get home, she was forced to buy one-way tickets, which set her back R17 000.

Ziehen said that Boswell blamed the problem on Turkish Airlines.

“I didn’t really question it at the time,” Ziehen said. “Quite frankly, I was quite happy that she was sorting it out.”

But after Boswell made several excuses about lost transfers and system errors that dragged on for longer than a month, Ziehen found that she could no longer get hold of her.

That’s when Ziehen finally called the airline herself: “Someone looked at my flight and said: ‘You only had a one-way flight to Morocco’.”

“They said: ‘You must speak to your travel agent in Durban.’ When I said my travel agent wasn’t in Durban, I was given a number for an agency in that city through which my flight had been booked.”

They told her Boswell was not a registered member of the Association of South African Travel Agents, so she had subcontracted her business to their agency – with specific instructions to book a one-way ticket.

“I thought (at first that) she was just not very good at her job. That she was defrauding me did not occur to me until it sort of hit me right in the face.”

Other alleged victims made contact with one another through mutual acquaintances and via hellopeter.com, according to

Benson-Muller.

“Somebody else wanted to take an around-the-world trip with their life savings. The stories are really, really sad. It’s a lot bigger than just me,” she said.

Natanya Israel, who alleges that Boswell conned her out of R32 000 over her New York trip, said Boswell had “shattered so many people’s dreams”.

“She’s left a lot of people in situations they have to recover from not just financially, but emotionally as well.”

In November last year, the group of affected people learnt that Boswell had taken a job at a travel agency in Dubai.

A criminal case was filed immediately against her there by Ashley Bahceci, another alleged victim.

Bahceci said she went to Boswell’s workplace and demanded a copy of her passport.

Boswell had signed a letter acknowledging she owed Bahceci money.

 

“She won’t be able to leave the UAE until she pays me, but I would rather see her in jail than paying me off with someone else’s money,” Bahceci said. “I think it will be the only way she is ever stopped from doing this to others.”

Weekend Argus

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