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AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

When the hot air balloon ride you booked doesn't happen


Be careful when you search online for that next big adventure outing -- a hot air balloon ride, a sky diving trip or a helicopter tour.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr filed an action on Wednesday to stop Marvelay LLC  -- a company operating online under the names "Spot Reservation" and "Rushcube" -- which he said was defrauding customers who paid for adventure experiences that the company was not actually providing.

According to the complaint, the company widely advertises online and gives consumers the idea that the companies behind the websites are actually providing the recreational activities. But the AG's office said the companies named on the websites, selling everything from balloon rides to flying lessons, do not actually exist. Instead, they sell the events and then try to book the activities through other vendors.

The AJC contacted the company's call center on Wednesday, but managers were not immediately available to answer questions about the complaint.

The AG's office said consumers were often booking the events as part of a special day -- maybe a marriage proposal planned for a hot-air balloon ride, or a milestone birthday celebration that revolved around a helicopter cruise.

The companies would take the money from the consumers, the complaint said, but it did not always secure a reservation for the activity. Or in other cases, the company would take the money for a reservation on a specific day when the real vendor had no openings at the time.

Sometimes the vendors would cancel due to weather, but the company that booked the trip wouldn't respond or provide a new reservation for the service the consumer already had paid for. The company also told consumers on its websites that the activities were available in specific cities, when they weren't -- requiring customers to travel for hours to get what they paid for.

According to the complaint, the company controls approximately 4,700 domain names that it uses to sell experiences to consumers. The websites often contain a local address and telephone number, the complaint said, leading consumers to believe it's a local company. But the company doesn't actually operate from the location, the complaint said.

One of the websites operated by the company is atlantaballoonrides.net. But the complaint said Atlanta Balloon Rides does not actually provide the rides, as suggested on the site.

The Attorney General want a permanent injunction to stop the company from future violations of Georgia’s Fair Business Practices Act.. Carr also wants restitution for affected consumers and civil penalties.


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About the Author

Carrie Teegardin is on the investigative team. She is a graduate of Duke University and has won numerous national journalism awards.