Palm Coast Travel, you’ll recall, was fined $2,500 for selling unlicensed travel insurance through a company called Prime Travel Protection. Some observers alleged a connection between Revelex, Palm Coast Travel and Prime Travel Protection, although a link was never proven.
DEPARTMENT OF FINANCIAL SERVICES
Florida regulators today filed a revised notice of intent to issue a cease and desist order against Legendary Journeys, a Sarasota, Fla., travel agency, as part of its investigation into Prime Travel Protection. It appears to be the state’s biggest action against a single company, with 17 counts and half a million dollars in outstanding claims, according to a government report. Here’s the order (PDF). Unlike some of the other agencies affected by this scandal, Legendary Journeys has been candid about its role and eager to face its critics. So I asked Al Ferguson, a vice president at Legendary Journeys, to answer a few questions.
Why do you think the state decided to revise its intent to issue a cease and desist today?
The intent is unclear. I think there is even conflicting opinion in Tallahassee on this.
We have complied on anything asked and submitted a mountain of paperwork to support everything that occurred. The revision is the same notice [we received a year ago] to not sell Prime Travel Protection policies. We stopped doing that six months before the first intent was issued.
Looks like Palm Coast Travel, the Boca Raton, Fla., agency accused by the state of Florida of selling unauthorized travel insurance, while at the same time trying to sue one of its own customers and me into silence, has quietly negotiated a settlement with insurance regulators.
Under the agreement (PDF), which was signed today, Palm Coast Travel, which also does business online as Smartcruiser.com, has agreed to cease and desist selling unauthorized insurance and will pay a $2,500 fine as well as restitution to its customers affected by the purchase of an unauthorized insurance policy. It will be placed on 18 months’ probation and has agreed not to sell unauthorized insurance in the future.
The consent order is practically identical to a draft settlement agreement (PDF) that has been circulating between Palm Coast Travel and insurance regulators since last summer, and which I obtained after filing a public records request.
Florida regulators this morning cracked down on two more travel agencies as part of their expanding investigation into illegal travel insurance. It brings the total number of companies charged with selling fake travel insurance to seven since January. More enforcement actions are believed to be on the way.
Notices of intent to issue a cease and desist orders were filed against Atlantis International Limited, a St. Petersburg, Fla., travel agency, and Cruises R Us of Plantation, Fla., which also used the name Cruisequick.com.
Cruisequick is familiar to readers of this site. A few years ago, it allegedly sold another unauthorized travel policy to reader Don Filiault. His insurance company, Trip Assured, was later hit with a cease and desist order issued by several states, including California and Florida.
A fresh round of public records released by the state of Florida’s Department of Financial Service this morning reveals the number of consumer complaints against travel agencies alleged to have sold illegal travel insurance, as well as the claims paid and their estimated value.
Palm Coast Travel had just three claims worth $27,787 — far below those of other large travel agencies such as Vacation Superstore (33 claims worth $131,061) and Legendary Journeys (174 claims worth $503,957). That figure suggests Palm Coast Travel, which also does business as Smartcruiser.com, aggressively moved to settle claims related to its alleged sale of illegal Prime Travel Protection products even before Florida regulators stepped in.
Florida’s Department of Financial Services is in the early stages of a far-reaching investigation into the activities of Palm Coast Travel and its affiliated companies, according to documents released this week under the state’s Public Records Act.
The documents also raise new questions about the relationship between Access America, the largest travel insurance company in the world, and Palm Coast Travel, which also does business online as Smartcruiser.com.
In a prepared statement, Access America yesterday suggested its current and future relationship with Palm Coast, which is accused of selling unlicensed insurance, is an internal matter.
“Thus far we have been contacted by both customers identified in the Florida investigation and we are working to resolve each matter appropriately,” a spokesman said. “Access America will continue to take steps consistent with providing ongoing care for its customers.”
Only a few weeks ago, Palm Coast Travel, one of three large travel agencies the state of Florida last year alleged had sold unlicensed insurance, seemed to have everything going for it.
The state’s investigation into its activities appeared to have hit a dead end. The company, which runs the site Smartcruiser.com, had sued one of its customers and me in an effort to silence its critics. And it was issuing press releases at a regular clip, touting its Better Business Bureau rating and obsession with customer service.
But late last week, in an unexpected twist, Florida regulators filed an amended notice of intent to issue a cease and desist order (PDF) with more detailed charges against Lake Worth, Fla.-based Smolinski and Associates, Inc., which, in addition to doing business as Palm Coast Travel and Smartcruiser.com, also operates under the names Smart Travel Group, Smart Cruiser Holdings and Tripsmart. (Update: A hearing has been set for April 8. Here’s the docket.) Any way you read the latest claims, it’s clear that Florida’s Department of Financial Services has no intention of letting this case fade away. (Here’s the first notice, for comparison purposes.)