Two months after The Jewish Standard broke the story of the Israeli travel agent who scammed his clients out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, would-be travelers are still waiting for refunds. Meanwhile, the agent awaits his day in court.
Late last year, more than 30 local families reported receiving fraudulent airline tickets or double or triple credit card charges, stemming from dealings with Daniel Krupnik of Orion Travel. Orion arranged for discounted tickets to Israel on El Al and Continental Airlines through Signal Tours Ltd., an established Israeli travel agency that processed all the credit card reservations. Beginning in November last year, Orion clients some of whom had used Orion before without incident reported that they had been overcharged and the airlines had no record of their tickets. When Signal learned that Krupnik had allegedly stolen more than $’00,000 from the company, it ended its affiliation with him and canceled all tickets he had booked, stranding an unknown number of travelers.
A message from the Standard to Krupnik’s e-mail account this week was answered by Guy Flanter, the Israeli lawyer defending him. Flanter stated that the allegations were under investigation by the Israeli police, and a court date is pending. Krupnik has been released on bail.
"Irrespective of the allegations, it must be noted that during the course of Orion Travel’s business, services were provided to thousands of satisfied customers," Flanter wrote.
Some ticket holders said in December that their credit card companies were going to reimburse the charges, but now that no longer seems to be the case.
Sam Chasan of Teaneck, who booked flights to celebrate his son’s bar mitzvah this summer, purchased five tickets from Orion at $900 apiece, using his Citibank MasterCard. When he first reported the fraud to his credit card company, he received a temporary credit. But, he told the Standard, Citibank recently revoked that credit and told Chasan that he must wait until the date the services were promised, July 3, to enter a dispute.
"I can’t wait for July," he said, noting that he still hoped to book new tickets for the summer and would need the $4,500.
After pursuing the matter further with MasterCard International, he was told that Citibank will dispute the charges, but Signal Tours has been given 60 days to respond to the charges, so Chasan will have to wait until sometime in March before hearing the outcome.
Signal Tours COO Yoav Karni, who had been in e-mail correspondence with Chasan in November, has not answered further inquiries into the matter. As of Wednesday, Karni had not returned an e-mail from the Standard seeking an update.
What bothers Chasan the most, he said, is that some people will not even realize they have been taken in until they are ready to leave. The actual number of affected travelers is unknown.
"You don’t know you’re a victim until you try to use those tickets," Chasan said.
Jill Schaefer of Woodbridge, Conn., flew to Israel this summer for her son’s bar mitzvah, but upon her return discovered she had been triple-charged for the five tickets. Krupnik told her it was a mistake and would be fixed. Shortly before she left, Schaefer recommended Orion Travel to her son’s day school for the eighth-grade class trip. After the Schaefers returned, she found out the school had been double-billed and Orion was attempting to make a third charge.
Schaefer received a refund through her Visa card in October after threatening Krupnik with legal action, but the school is still trying to recover the money.
"I feel terribly guilty about getting the school into this," she said. "I’ve lost a lot of sleep over it. I just would like to know that everyone who is out money will be taken care of."
Kate Mowlem of Glen Rock read the Standard’s report and called in with her own story. In March ‘006, she had booked six tickets to Israel for this past July. But when the war between Israel and Hezbollah broke out, she decided to postpone it. Krupnik, she said, told her it would not be a problem and the airline would provide a two-year credit.
Two weeks ago, she tried to contact him by telephone and e-mail to reschedule her trip for this summer, but could not reach him. When she found out what had happened, she called MasterCard and this week submitted a request for a credit. She had paid $1,000 per ticket in April, and now she is concerned about the statute of limitations for filing a claim.
A call by Mowlem to the Better Business Bureau in Florida, where Krupnik’s American phone number is listed, revealed that Orion Travel had earned an "unsatisfactory" business reliability report. According to a letter dated Feb. 8, the BBB considered it unlikely that Orion Travel would respond to the bureau or to Mowlem, based on this rating.
"I don’t expect to see this money back," she said. "It’s a very sophisticated scam."