On August 8, 2007, I received a postcard stating that I had been selected to receive "Two Roundtrip Airfares to Anywhere in the U.S." and "3 days, 2 nights at a hotel", and that I should call [protected] for details.
On August 9, 2007, I called that number and spoke with a man who identified himself as Patrick McKinna. He stated that I would receive a complimentary gift of 2 round trip airfares from the nearest international airport to my home to any major city with an international airport in the US, Mexico, or Canada, plus 3 days, 2 nights hotel accommodations for 2 at a business class chain hotel. He said that all my wife and I needed to do to get this gift was to attend a 90-minute advertising presentation by Global Services Network in Columbia, MD. He said that I would have no obligation to use the company or to buy anything.
The address he gave for the presentation was:
Global Services Network
9710 Patuxent Woods Dr., Suite B
Columbia, MD 21046
I asked him what conditions or restrictions, if any, there were on the award travel. He replied, "You would be responsible for hotel and airline taxes."
I asked for any other travel restrictions that he hadn't mentioned. He replied, "You can not travel on holidays, and you must give at least 30 days notice prior to travel."
I asked whether we get to pick the travel dates, he said "Yeah, I think so. They are a travel company, and they want you to take the vacation so that you can see what they have to offer.".
I agreed to attend the presentation.
On August 12th, my wife and I fulfilled our end of the agreement by attending the Global Services presentation in Columbia, MD. After the presentation, Global Services tried to give us a "Vacation Extravaganza" certificate from "Worldwide Travel Center" in Deerfield Beach, FL. The certificate had many additional conditions not in the original agreement (made over the phone), such as:
- we had to put down a $100 deposit, to be returned if and after we completed the travel,
- we could only travel on a Tuesday,
- we had to submit 3 sets of possible travel dates separated by at least 30 days, from which they would select one set for our travel
- we could not travel within 7 days before or after a holiday
- they could change the terms and conditions at any time without notice
- accommodations were subject to their availability
- accommodations might be a "motel"
We refused to accept that certificate, pointing out that it did not meet the terms of our existing agreement. They noted our refusal, but didn't do anything about it. They informed us that the telephone call in which the existing agreement was formed had been recorded, and that we could complain to the Global Services headquarters if we wanted to.
On August 13th, I called the Global Services headquarters at [protected] to complain about the bait and switch. I spoke with a man who identified himself as "Ryan". He took full details of my complaint, and promised to have someone call me back.
On August 20th, I had received no return call from Global Services as promised, so I called Global back at the same number. I spoke with a female who identified herself as Brittney. She saw in her records that I had complained on August 13th, but said that she did not see why they should call me back because, in her words, "we don't owe you anything." She stated that since I don't have their alleged promise in writing, I don't have any grounds for complaint. I explained that an oral promise is still legally binding, and that anyway they had recorded the call. She replied that she still didn't see why they owe me anything. I told them that I would file a case with the Better Business Bureau, and see what they (the BBB people) think. She told me to wait one more week and they might call me back. I waited another week and a half, and they never called me back.
I filed a case with the Better Business Bureau. Global responded by admitting that they had a recording of the phone call in question and offering to give me a copy. When I said, "Yes, please give me a copy. It will prove my case." they refused to provide it. They said that they listened to the recording and that they don't owe me anything because:
1. There was no "meeting of the minds" on the phone, so there could be no legal contract.
2. There was no written agreement, so it could not be legally binding.
3. The "Worldwide Travel" certificate's terms and conditions were consistent with what I was promised on the phone.
The Better Business Bureau, over my repeated objections, closed the case and marked it as "Company addressed the complaint issues. The consumer failed to acknowledge acceptance to the BBB." (I have written to the BBB on three separate occasions notifying them that the matter is not resolved. The first time, they re-opened the case, then closed it a couple months later. The next two times, they ignored me. So much for the BBB being an impartial arbiter.)
On October 17, 2007, I filed a case against Global Services, Inc. in the Small Claims Division of the General District Court of Fairfax, VA.
On December 7, 2007, the case went to trial. A non-lawyer employee of Global showed up to represent Global. I presented a chronology of the relevant events to the judge, and cited the following legal causes of action:
- Breach of Contract
- Violation of several sections of VA's Consumer Protection Act:
- 59.1-200(2) (Global's initial postcard to me was made to look like it came from Delta Airlines, even though Delta had nothing to do with it.)
- Violation of several sections of VA's Prizes and Gifts Act:
For damages, I cited:
- the travel certificate's own statement that the certificate is worth up to $3, 000.
- the cost for round trip airfare and 2 nights hotel for two to/at a place of my chosing on dates of my choosing was $2, 800 (not including taxes) based on the lowest price quoted by Travelocity.com
- the VA code provides statutory damages of $1, 000 for intentional violation of 59.1-200(2)
The defense made the same argument as before:
We owe the plaintiff nothing because:
- There was no meeting of the minds
- The contract was not in writing.
The judge ruled that Global had, indeed, breached its contract with me and had violated Virginia's statutory law. The judge then awarded me $1, 000 (statutory damages) for Global's intentional violation of VA's Consumer Protection Act.