Travel agency accused of defrauding Indian customers

by: Mike Petchenik Updated:

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ALPHARETTA, Ga. —

Police across metro Atlanta are investigating a New York-based travel agency accused of stealing money from customers in the Indian community.

Arpna Purani told Channel 2's Mike Petchenik she contacted Ghandi Travels, Inc. after seeing an advertisement in a local magazine because she was planning a trip to India this summer with her son for a religious rite of passage and to see family.

"It was a good rate," the Lawrenceville woman said. "It said 'best fares in town, lowest fares in town,' so we called."

Purani said a company representative told her she would have to pay about $2,500 in cash and that the company wouldn't accept credit cards.

"I said, 'Why don't you take a credit card?' He says, 'Because we need the cash right away to see if we'll be paid,'" Purani said.

Purani said she deposited a cashier's check into the agency's bank account and followed up with a phone call to confirm receipt.

"He said, 'I'll get to you, I'll get to you, I promise,'" she told Petchenik. "Every time I'd call, he never picked up so I kind of knew that this was a fraud."

Purani said she has filed a police report in Gwinnett County for theft.

Petchenik learned about the situation after checking Alpharetta police reports. He found two similar cases there in the last week, including one involving a victim who paid upwards of $3,600 for tickets from the agency.

A police report said when the victim arrived at the airport, she was turned away because the airline said her tickets had been purchased with stolen credit cards.

Dunwoody police confirm they are investigating a case there, too.

"She thought it was a legit company, a legit web site, and in fact it wasn't," said Sgt. Mike Carlson of the victim in his city. "The word needs to get out to not go with this company."

Carlson said detectives were investigating several leads and trying to track down the person behind the company. He warned customers to do their homework.

"You want to get enough references so that when you're going to spend that kind of money, it's going to be worthwhile," he said.

The editor of Indian magazine, Khabar, told Petchenik Ghandi Travels, Inc. had advertised in his publication.

"We never had reason to suspect there was anything fishy going on, until we started hearing from the community," said Parthiv Parekh.

Parekh said so far, he's heard from about two dozen readers who paid the company, but never received their plane tickets.

In the latest edition of Khabar, Parekh has pulled the company's advertisements and replaced them with a warning for victims to contact a Dunwoody detective if they've been scammed.

"Our magazine is well-liked, well-respected and well-trusted," he said. "I hate the fact that it's been abused."

Petchenik called the number in the advertisement, but it was disconnected. An email to the company also bounced back.

Purani said she's devastated about the theft.

"It's a long trip, it takes a while to collect the money and for him to do that to people like us, it's unacceptable," she said. "I would have to work another six months to collect my money to go to India again."