Pahang commercial crime investigation department chief Supt Mohd Wazir Mohd Yusof disclosed that a 37-year-old woman lodged a police report in Maran on Dec14 that she was cheated of RM56,360.
She claimed the money was handed over to a travel agent who could no longer be contacted since Dec 9 after leaving a message in a WhatsApp group saying that the proposed tour of China from Dec 12 had been cancelled.
From last year until early this month, she had been collecting instalments from 29 people for tour fares ranging from RM1,650 to RM1,990, and was planning to escort the group to China as tour leader.
The money collected was banked into the account of the travel agent who finally admitted that the tour could not proceed because he had mismanaged the money but promised to return it to her over three months.
The case is being investigated under Section 420 of the Penal Code for cheating, which provides for up to 10 years’ jail, whipping and fine on conviction. It also contravened the Tour Operating Business and Travel Agency Business (TOBTAB) regulations.
There are three main licences under TOBTAB. The ‘Travel Agency Business’ licence allows the company to act as agents for principals such as airlines, hotels, theme parks and tour wholesalers.
The ‘Inbound Tour Operating Business’ licence permits the company to accept reservations and payments from visitors planning to visit Malaysia, foreigners who are already here and Malaysians travelling within the country.
Only those with the ‘Outbound Tour Operating Business’ licence may organise tours to overseas for Malaysians and foreigners residing here such as expats. And these companies may only operate from premises licensed by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture.
The term travel agent is a misnomer. At best, it can be used to describe the owner or very senior staff of a travel or tour company, like banker for banks. An agency would refer to a firm, which can be a syarikat or sole proprietorship for insurance agents. For travel agencies, it must at least be a sendirian berhad or private limited company.
As such, the public should not be dealing with any agent or individual for their travel or tour arrangements, including those operating freelance after gaining some work experience. And no individual, including tourist guide or tour leader, is permitted to collect payment for travel or tour services arranged by him or her, or act as tour operator.
As for this case, which the travel agent could no longer be contacted, there is still hope if the company is still operating. If not, this person can disappear into thin air, just like countless numbers that are operating in cyberspace waiting for those gullible looking for bargains or opting for convenience.
The views expressed here are strictly those of The True Net reader YS Chan from Petaling Jaya.