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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Hanging up on a free cruise: the emotional toll of doing the right thing

Published: April 27, 2012
Section: Opinions

It isn’t easy to hang up when a telemarketer offers you a free cruise. But you’ll be happy you did.

This past week, I received a call from 503-468-5198. I rarely pick up when I don’t know who’s on the other line, but I was at Hannaford Supermarket grabbing a few items, I was bored and I had a few minutes to talk.

A recording answered, and it said the word “political survey” before I could hang up. Political survey? As a politics major, I was curious what the survey would be about. Then the recording offered a free cruise trip.

Not expecting much, I kept listening, completed the short political survey on Obama and the Keystone Pipeline and then was connected to a polite, albeit scripted woman representing Caribbean Cruise Line. It was a little too easy.

The woman began by asking for my name but I stopped her. What were the hidden costs? What was the catch?

She didn’t exactly answer. Reading from a script, she began to explain that the cruise line wanted to advertise and it offered free trips as a way of spreading the word about it’s vacation packages.

“Have you ever been on a cruise?” she asked me.

No, but I really wanted to. The weather this week in Waltham hasn’t exactly been ideal.

The telemarketer began to describe the cruise in detail, from the casino to the open bar to the all-inclusive meal package.

It’s all free, she said. At that point, although I knew it was obviously a scam, another part of me was pretty much ready to do anything she said.

“There is a $59 government-mandated port fee per person,” she continued. And it would need to be paid in advance. Then, I’d be able to take advantage of the cruise anytime in the next 18 months.

Despite asking numerous times, she told me I had to pay for the cruise port fee then and there, and I would not be able to call back to confirm. If I wanted to see the offer in writing, I would need to have her send an email while I was on the phone and complete the deal soon after.

Disappointed, I explained I couldn’t commit, but she wouldn’t budge. So I gave up.

“Can we call you about future deals?” she asked.

And waste my time again? No, that’s alright, I replied. Thanks anyways.

It turns out I made the right decision. Type “political survey car” into Google and the search engine suggests, “political survey caribbean cruise.” Hundreds of thousands of Google search results pop up.

If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Caribbean Cruise Lines has a D+ rating from the Better Business Bureau. Based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the company has dealt with 1,160 complaints and has “failed to resolve the underlying cause(s) of a pattern of complaints.”

The bureau describes the $59 per person scam. “The only fees mentioned are the port fees in the amount of $59 per person. Some consumers state they are not told of additional fees or that they must attend a two hour timeshare presentation as a part of the agreement.”

The bureau continues, “Requests for a refund result in rude customer service and a refusal to issue the refund as mentioned in the sales presentation.”

The company promises a free trip, but the details are far less enticing. I can’t confirm whether or not the cruise would have actually happened. Online, a number of consumers report frustration with the process. Most never received their free trips after paying the up-front fee.

The cruise line company likely did not break the rules of the Do Not Call Registry either. According to the registry, telephone surveyors are exempt from do not call limitations. By using the political survey as an initial ploy, the cruise line skirts pro-consumer laws.

Scammers are smart. They want to entice, to make you think you’re better than everyone else, that you deserve a free cruise even though you probably never even entered your name in any sort of contest. They make you decide on the spot to increase the pressure and to force you to either make a costly mistake or hang up. Just remember: The best opportunities in life aren’t going to catch you by surprise in the supermarket.

In the next 18 months, I’d really like to go on a cruise. It’s going to be expensive, but I’m willing to save up and pay. It could be really fun, too. I’m looking forward to it.

But if I find I can’t afford the trip, then I won’t go on a cruise. No one else is going to foot the bill. That’s how things work in this world. It’s as simple as that.