DENVER (CN) - The Wunder family, which runs Sea to Ski Vacations, bilks consumers for up to $10,000 a pop, charging outlandish fees for "exclusive" vacation deals that are not exclusive at all, Colorado's attorney general claims in court.
Attorney General John Suthers sued Sea to Ski Vacations, Traditions Travel Group, and four members of the Wunder family - Andrew, Stephen, Christian and Bethany - in Denver County Court.
The defendant companies operate out of Broomfield and Westminster, Colo.
Andrew Wunder aka Mark Dutell calls himself Sea to Ski's president; he is married to Bethany, is the brother of Stephen and the son of Christian Wunder, according to the state's complaint.
The attorney general claims the Wunders use a Welter of tricks to fleece victims: including offering a money-back guarantee for 72 hours, while prohibiting anyone in the family from taking such calls.
Stephen and Andrew Wunder trick their suckers into paying exorbitant fee during flashy sales presentations, and close the deal by isolating the victims and offering them "one-time" deals that don't exist, the attorney general says in the complaint.
In fact, most of the "exclusive" deals they offer can be found for free on public websites such as Expedia or Travelocity, the state says.
"Consumers are shown a power point presentation describing what they can expect from their membership: lavish vacations in condos around the world, priced from $99 to $899 per week," the complaint states. "Consumers are told they can expect to go to any one of Sea to Ski's thousands of properties for 'deep discounts' because of Sea to Ski's 'exclusive' deals with a variety of condo, timeshare, or resort companies all over the world.
"Defendant Sea to Ski's website advertises properties that it cannot deliver. Properties listed on the website for $99 to $899 per week are frequently unavailable when members request them.
"When Sea to Ski is able to deliver condos for under $899, the source is generally through websites accessible to the public. Consumers are enticed to join Sea to Ski to get 'exclusive' deals, but Sea to Ski has no 'exclusive' relationship resulting in deep discounts for condos."
And, the attorney general says, all of the defendants' so-called "deals" come with undisclosed fees that can add thousands of dollars to the price.
The Wunder brothers are Sea to Ski's top salesmen, occasionally using aliases as they use "high pressure sales techniques" to close deals, the state says.
"Despite denying participation in distributor presentations, defendants Andrew Wunder and Stephen Wunder travel throughout the country to sell membership at the distributor presentations, and sell memberships themselves out of the Broomfield address through Traditions Travel," the complaint states. "At these presentations, defendants sometimes use aliases: Andrew Wunder as 'Mark Dutell' and Stephen Wunder acts as 'Stephen Andrews' or 'Andrew Stephens.'
"In the out-of-state presentations, Sea to Ski's logos pervade the presentation, even if the presentation is supposedly hosted by one of the sales distributor companies. Sea to Ski gives all distributors the power point presentation, promotional books about Sea to Ski, and a selection of one-time only offers to entice customers. Additionally, defendant Stephen and Andrew Wunder, when not actively participating in out-of-town events, are available telephonically for questions.
"After the club's benefits are explained, consumers are separated from other consumers. Then, a salesperson continues to pressure them into purchasing a membership to Sea to Ski. Sometimes, the salesperson will push the sale for several hours. Sea to Ski requires that those who are married attend with their spouse to prevent the excuse of needing to ask for a second opinion before joining.
"Defendants and their agents start with a membership quote of up to $10,000. If consumers balk, the price is aggressively lowered to an average of $4,000 to $6,000."
The Wunder brothers also offer free plane tickets and prizes that are "effectively impossible to use," the attorney general says in the complaint.
"To entice customers to come to presentations about Sea to Ski, defendant Sea to Ski and its distributors partners with marketers who solicit customers with postcards, emails and phone calls promising two free airline tickets or other prizes," the state says. "Redemption of the 'free' prize is conditioned upon attending a presentation about Sea to Ski.
"These free prize giveaways are so riddled with conditions and loopholes that their value is nonexistent. When consumers call or contact Sea to Ski to report difficulties using their airline vouchers, Sea to Ski disclaims all responsibility and tells consumers that they must look to the 'third party' providers for relief."
New members who invoke a "buy-back guarantee" they were promised during the sales pitch get stonewalled, the state says.
"Salespeople entice customers with 'deals' or incentives that are only available that day," the complaint states. "These incentives include a buy-back guarantee promising a full membership fee refund if the consumer is not satisfied.
"Defendants fail to conspicuously disclose that the buy-back 'guarantee' comes with conditions. Defendants require that consumers 'register' the buy-back guarantee within 60 days of joining, by registered mail, or forever lose the opportunity to enforce the buy-back guarantee. ...
"Additionally, customers are told at presentations that they have a statutory right to cancel their contract with Sea to Ski within 72 hours of joining. Consumers who call to test their membership within this cancellation period are not allowed to speak to Sea to Ski's travel agents. The agents are instructed by Bethany Wunder to forward all such calls to her or another member of the family. Sea to Ski travel agents are warned by the Wunders that they will be fired if they talk to consumers calling within the 72-hour cancellation period."
When the attorney general notified Sea to Ski of the state's investigation, the company abruptly changed its name to America Travel Planners. Andrew Wunder continues to sell Sea to Ski memberships under the new name, the attorney general says.
The state seeks disgorgement, restitution, an injunction and penalties for deceptive trade and consumer law violations.