State sues travel company, alleges fraud

Posted: Sunday, August 03, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) The state sued an Anchorage travel company Friday, alleging Ask Alaska Travel & Tours committed fraud and engaged in unfair or deceptive business practices.

The Alaska attorney general's consumer protection lawsuit came on the same day the business filed for bankruptcy.

Ask Alaska advertised itself as the largest custom-tour planner in the state. It shut down abruptly last month.

The company, owned by Jennifer L. Christensen, owes money to more than 1,000 businesses and individuals across the country, according to U.S. Bankruptcy Court documents. The company listed assets ranging from $500,000 to $1 million but did not specify its total debt.

The civil lawsuit charges Christensen and her company with taking money from tourists but not providing services they bought. It also accuses her of making unauthorized charges on customers' credit cards.

Christensen's bankruptcy attorney, William Artus, did not return a phone call from the Anchorage Daily News on Friday.

Anne Reves, an administrative assistant from Kansas, said her trip booked with Ask Alaska turned into a nightmare when the lodging and tours she paid didn't pan out.

After Ask Alaska charged Reves' credit card for nearly $1,200, she flew to Alaska with her traveling companions. They showed up at bed and breakfasts and for rides on the Alaska Railroad only to be told their reservations were not paid for. Vendors advised them that their Ask Alaska vouchers were no good and that the tourists would have to pay again if they wanted the service, Reves said.

Reves told her credit-card company what happened and has been reimbursed for the disputed charges, she said.

Affordable New Car Rentals, an Anchorage rental car agency, has gone to court to seek some $26,000 from Christensen, money owed from 2002, said Tony Allen, general manager.

Allen said he started requiring cashier's checks as prepayment from Ask Alaska this summer after the company's checks started bouncing last year.

In June, Ask Alaska customers showed up to collect their rental car but the tour company hadn't paid for their reservation, so he called Christensen, Allen said. She told Allen she would pay with her own credit card, he said. Allen jotted down the number, charged what he thought was Christensen's card, and sent the clients on their way.

''Two weeks later we were contacted by a travel agent, asking me why I had charged his customer twice,'' Allen said. ''It became apparent that it was not Jennifer's card.''

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