ADA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A West Michigan family nearly lost $300 when they rebooked a flight through a look-a-like website they thought was connected to Delta Airlines.
“I don’t want this to happen to anybody else,” said Naomi Poel, a mom and teacher who lives in Ada Township.
She filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau Serving Western Michigan and shared her cautionary tale with Target 8.
In mid-July, Poel’s family was scheduled to fly to Japan to visit her mom and dad.
But she learned an hour before they were due to board that the plane was delayed, and they would miss their connecting flight.
“I was panicking really badly because we don’t travel a lot, so we really don’t know much about how it goes and ‘are we going to miss the whole trip,’” she recalled.
The family went online to Delta but couldn’t find tickets for the same day. They tried to connect with a human being at the airline.
“My father-in-law looked up the Delta flight change number and that was the first thing that came up,” said Poel, referring to an advertisement for a website.
“They claimed to be Delta on the advertisement, so we didn’t suspect it. We thought it was Delta,” she said.
The website connected to the ad had “Delta Airlines Reservations” on its homepage, and a paragraph that began, “We, at Delta Airlines, offer curated travel experience for our customers by helping them get the best deals and offers while booking flights.”
Poel booked next day flights through the website with the help of a man named Daren French.
He charged them a service fee of $300 to re-book their tickets.
“When I was talking to Daren, he said, ‘don’t go to the airport, don’t go to the airport,” recalled Poel.
But in the hours that followed, the family became suspicious and went directly to the Delta desk at the airport.
That’s when they learned the site they thought was Delta was actually a third party company.
Agents with the real Delta Airlines told the family the airline would have rebooked their tickets for free.
“I was lucky because the Delta agents were able to fix it for me. They were super helpful,” she said.
Delta called Daren French directly and got him to refund the $300 service fee.
The airline also re-booked the family’s flights for free, and they flew to Japan the next day.
Delta Airlines told Target 8 it’s looking into the incident and referred Target 8 to a portion of its website devoted to preventing fraud.
Target 8 contacted Daren French at the 1-844 number listed on the advertisement Poel’s father-in-law found online.
French told us he never represented himself as a Delta employee and the $300 he charged was a “reissuance fee,” $100 for each of the family’s three tickets.
“We clearly told (Naomi Poel) that we are not Delta Airlines and we are a travel agency, but she said ‘can you please do something for me?”
The flights did actually get booked so it’s clear there was no outright fraud, and there’s a disclaimer at the bottom of the site’s homepage stating it is not affiliated with any airline.
Even so, the Better Business Bureau Serving Western Michigan believes the site was trying to associate itself with a well-established company – Delta Airlines – to attract business it might not obtain on its own.
“We’re seeing a lot of cases now where people go online and do a simple Google search trying to find a specific business and they’ll find a phone number,” explained Troy Baker, manager of communications at the BBB.
“(Consumers) call the number and through the entire interaction, they’ll believe they’re dealing with that business. It’s only later that they realize that they weren’t dealing with Delta airlines or some other company, they were dealing with a complete third party. That’s a concern that consumers aren’t really using who they believe they are.”
Baker stressed the importance of taking the time to thoroughly review any company you’ve engaged with.
“Really look at what you’re seeing and question it. If you’re looking for Delta Airlines, go to Delta.com. It really does get as simple as that. A lot of times, your Google search is not going to be the best answer nowadays.”