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Rubin: Skip the Travel Expo, and don’t send cash to Jef

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

The woman on the phone who talkedrealfast assured me this was “not one of those events where they’re pressuring you to buy something,” which is almost a guarantee that they wanted to pressure me to buy something.

I’ll never know for sure, alas, because I’m not allowed to attend the so-called “Travel Expo 2016” without my wife — which is also something of a guarantee.

Like scads of other Michiganians, I received a letter this week from the National Tourism Development Council, an organization that does not show up in a Google search except on websites like

The letter offered me two free airline tickets and two nights at “one of over 1000 Marriott Hotel locations,” with a retail value of exactly $1,288.

Having called a toll-free number for details, I learned that all I had to do to collect them was attend a fun-filled sales pitch — I mean, travel expo — in July at a hotel in Auburn Hills.

Also, I had to have credit cards and an annual household income of at least $60,000.

I should point out that the evening might be exactly what Ms. Talkrealfast described — a praisefest for travel agents and a caution against booking online. But call me cynical, it still put my suspicions on high alert.

It roused them almost as much as a recent email exchange with someone in the Philippines who claimed to be my friend Jef Mallett of Huntington Woods.

The guy in the Philippines who said he was Jef said he needed me to wire him $3,000 to pay for an operation for his cousin. In a miracle of medicine, the alleged cousin of the alleged Jef went from needing a hysterectomy to needing a kidney transplant in the space of just three emails.

We’ll get back to that. First, though, let’s hear from president Melanie Duquesnel of the Eastern Michigan BBB about the so-called Travel Expo 2016.

“Oooh. Free airline tickets!” she said — and then she laughed.

Leave home without ’em

Bring your spouse, what’s your income, are you close personal friends with American Express.

“All three red flags,” Duquesnel said. “You just named ‘em.”

Another warning sign: the notion that two flights and two nights have a specific value, as though rooms in Miami plus a flight from Los Angeles would cost the same as a restful weekend in Toledo for a couple who jetted up from Cincinnati.

“It’s a travel club,” she predicted, with lots of pretty pictures from around the globe in the presentation and lots of unexpected costs after you join.

Or, it’s a timeshare – and ditto on the unexpected costs.

“It’s intended to play on your emotions,” she said. The crowd is fired up and you’ve never been to Bimini, and boom, you’re on the hook.

Her rule: “If you’re really interested, go and listen. But never bring your checkbook, your credit card or your significant other.”

If you’re not allowed to attend without one or all of the above, you don’t want to be there anyway.

Also, if you hear from someone in the Philippines, keep your hands on your wallet. And your kidneys.

Absolutely comic-al

Jef Mallett writes and draws “Frazz,” my favorite comic strip, which would be worth the cost of The Detroit News if so many other things weren’t already.

In his spare time, he’s a triathlete and an open-water swimmer, and he was splashing across San Francisco Bay not long ago when a scammer hacked his email account.

Having not been born yesterday – and having checked Facebook — I knew he wasn’t in Manila, so I took the opportunity to yank the chain of the imitation Jef.

“I don’t want to be cheap, especially with a good friend,” I wrote at one point, but I didn’t think uterine fibroids could be fatal and I wondered if the hospital was being honest. “I know sometimes they try to frazz people, especially tourists.”

That’s when he switched off to a kidney transplant. Unfortunately, a weekend intervened, and I stopped hearing from him before I could wild-goose him to the Western Union office to wait for money I didn’t send.

Maybe he thought I was trying to frazz him — or worse yet, sell him a timeshare.