The Israel travel plans of more than two dozen area families came to a crashing halt earlier this month. Their credit cards had been double-billed and the airlines had no record of their reservations.
Yosepha Solomon of Teaneck had booked a trip in April for her family to go to Israel during Passover 2007. She had been referred to Daniel Krupnik of Orion Travel, based in Israel. Orion is a free-lance agency of Signal Tours Ltd., which has been in business for 30 years. Krupnik offered Solomon five tickets at $850 each for herself, her husband, and their three children. Her sister, who declined to be named, had booked a flight to Texas on Continental through Krupnik, but there were no tickets waiting for her at the airport. She told Solomon, who then called to confirm her family’s flight to Israel.
“I didn’t have reservations at all,” she told The Jewish Standard. “Many of us in September were double- and triple-billed the same amount we paid in April. When some of us started calling El Al for confirmation of our tickets, it was found we weren’t on the reservation list.”
Solomon is compiling a list of people who have had similar experiences with Krupnik and Orion Travel. The list as of this week includes 30 families from Englewood, Teaneck, and Paramus. Some of the people on Solomon’s list had dealt with Krupnik before with positive results, which added to their puzzlement.
“We have people who traveled successfully [through Krupnik] in August and September,” Solomon said. “That’s when it seemed to stop.”
Debbie Greenbaum of Paramus said Krupnik had acted professionally while processing her family’s reservations. “He was very nice and told me before I faxed him any credit card information I should call the office to make sure my information was going to a real place,” she said. She had reserved five tickets during Passover totaling $6,321, but found out during Thanksgiving week that no reservations existed under her name. “I felt very comfortable using him, and nobody thought a Jewish person would do that to fellow Jews, especially over Pesach. Since then, everybody has their own attorney.”
Mastercard canceled her credit card to ensure that Krupnik could not place any more fraudulent charges and gave the Greenbaums a temporary credit while the credit-card company investigates.
But, said Greenbaum, Signal, as Orion’s parent organization, should simply refund her money.
Sam and Lori Chasan of Bergenfield were planning a trip this summer for their son Akiva’s bar mitzvah. As with the Solomons, Krupnik came well-recommended. He promised them five tickets at $900 each. Sam Chasan booked the trip on his Mastercard on Sept. 18 and last week, through the same verbal grapevine that had led him to Krupnik in the first place, he found out about the problems with Krupnik’s other clients.
Because Orion Travel billed itself as part of Signal Tours, Chasan called the agency directly. On Nov. 20, Yoav Karni, chief operating officer of Signal, apologized in an e-mail “for any inconvenience” and stated that Signals Tours was unaware of Krupnik’s actions. Karni called Krupnik an independent contractor and claimed he had defrauded Signal and absconded with more than $250,000 of the agency’s money. Signal was also a victim of Krupnik’s fraud, Karni said, and had turned the matter over to the Fraud Investigation Department of the Israeli police.
In a subsequent e-mail exchange with Chasan, Karni said Krupnik was never licensed to sell tickets through El Al. As a result, all reservations Krupnik had booked had been canceled and Signal’s lawyers were looking into the matter.
Karni also wrote that Krupnik had been arrested on Dec. 10 and confessed to all charges of fraud. (Yediot Achronot reported the arrest Dec. 12.)
“Krupnik processes from Signal Tours, that’s on all our credit cards,” said Solomon. “Signal is telling us, ‘It’s in our lawyer’s hands,’ but keeps communicating back and forth. They instigated the arrest of Krupnik.”
After getting nowhere with Karni, Chasan filed a dispute with his credit card company and received a temporary credit from Mastercard, which, he said, would take up the issue with Signal Tours. His travel plans for the summer, however, have been put on hold. Beyond Krupnik’s own misdeeds, Chasan is calling Signal to account for canceling the reservations of all of Orion’s clients. It is Signal’s responsibility to make good on those tickets, Chasan told the Standard.
“How could Signal en masse cancel all these tickets? Several people said they had reservation numbers,” Chasan said.
In an e-mail to the Standard on Wednesday, Karni maintained Signal’s innocence and that police were continuing to investigate.
“Signal Tours Ltd. is one of the oldest and largest traveling firms in Israel and for 30 years it has been one of the leading firms in its field of activity. During said 30 years, Signal has established a flawless reputation and it is very well known,” he wrote.
“Signal shall act in the matter in accordance with the conclusions of the investigation conducted by the Israeli Police and currently Daniel Krupnick is held under arrest and a thorough police investigation in the matter of his actions is being conduct [sic],” Karni added.
At least 30 families are struggling to regain their lost money. In some cases, like Chasan’s, credit card companies provided temporary credits for the charges, and those companies will look to Krupnik to recoup their losses.
Last week Chasan called the New York headquarters of Israel’s Ministry of Tourism to seek their aid.
Ruth Mekel, director of public relations at the ministry, told the Standard that its information center forwarded the complaint to the ministry’s Jerusalem office. Now that the matter is under police investigation, the ministry is unable to intervene, she said.
“Of course we are sorry that the families were subjected to a harrowing experience, and are positive that proper measures will be taken to prevent such occurrences in the future,” she e-mailed the Standard on Wednesday. “It is important to note that it is an isolated incident which should not have any negative impact on travel to Israel or Israel’s image.”
Mekel recommended that travelers look to the ministry when planning a trip to Israel to see which travel agents it recommends. The ministry is also looking into the possibility of creating a tour operators’ fund, which would secure clients’ money in cases of fraud, she wrote.
“The experience definitely left a little damper [on the excitement of Israel],” said Debbie Greenbaum, whose Pesach travel plans have been put on hold. “We will go, but when it’s a better time and not so expensive. And directly through El Al.”