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Sheriff warns 'scam' offering vacation deal operating in area

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RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (WIS) -

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott is warning people that a trio of "scam artists" took advantage of several local people recently.

Lott says someone using the name "Great Getaway Concierge LLC" came to a Columbia-area hotel on April 5 to sign up people for vacation packages. Lott says "the fictitious company sent out random postcards to sign people up and telling them they were receiving a prize of two free airline tickets aboard Southwest Airlines to anywhere."

About seven couples showed up at a hotel on Two Notch Road for what Lott calls a "phony sales pitch...similar to some 'timeshare presentation' where you get a prize at the end of the presentation."

Lott says the company supposedly sells vacation packages, telling people they can save hundreds of dollars.

Those who signed up for the vacation packages at the local presentation paid for them with checks and credit cards. Sheriff Lott says Lauren and Robert Disanto of Brookville, FL, worked as agents and gave the presentation at the hotel and acquired the contracts. Travel agent directors Bill Ferrell and Angelique Merrell collected the money.

One week later, Lott says one of the alleged victims received a call from Great Getaway claiming the company did not receive the check for $2,900 for their vacation package. Upon checking with her bank, the woman learned someone who gave the presentation put her name on the check and cashed it.

Lott says Lauren Disanto later called some of the people who bought the vacation packages and told them the company is a "scam" and employees of the company did not return her calls. Disanto said the company is owned by Fernando Gutierrez.

Disanto told the people she was hired as a front to present the vacation packages. The sheriff says she and her husband have been cooperating with investigators.

Lott says "Ferrell and Merrell have been pulling these scams in several states, to include, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida and South Carolina." They are not licensed to sell any products in SC and Lott says they did so illegally.

The victims lost $3,000-$5,000 dollars.

If you know anything that can help investigators find Ferrell, Merrell or Gutierrez, call Crimestoppers at 1-888-Crime-SC.

To protect yourself from losing money in a scam, Sheriff Lott offers this advice:

  • Do not make quick decisions on the spot
  • Do not feel pressured to give up money
  • Do not give them any information such as credit card, checking account, driver's license, or social security until you are sure they are who they say they are
  • Do not assume a friendly voice belongs to a friend
  • If you are interested in what they are selling have them send you information forms to be verified
  • Have the caller give you their information, address and phone number and then verify who they are through the Better Business Bureau or South Carolina Advocates Office or National Fraud Center @ 1-800-876-7060.

The sheriff also warns people not to be intimidated by a sales person.

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