Unregistered Ontario Moose Travel company’s customers still awaiting refunds

Editor’s note: A broadcast story incorrectly said Merle Steimke had been waiting for a refund for almost a year and a tweet by Seán O’Shea said Ms. Steimke had got the “run around for eight months”; actually, Ms. Steimke paid for her tour in early November 2018, the company cancelled the tour on January 29, 2019 and Ms. Steimke received her refund on June 7, 2019.

Customers of an unregistered Toronto-based travel company are still attempting to get refunds after the business ceased operations.

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Moose Travel East has cancelled its tours leaving some clients feeling like they were on their own to get their money back.

Chee Keong Sen of Malaysia told Global News he booked an all-inclusive “Big East” travel package with Moose Travel East for six travelers and paid $9840.

“There were no follow-up measures provided to us for the processing of our refunds,” Chee Keong said, adding he is still waiting to get his money back.

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In an emailed cancellation, the company told Chee Keong: “Extenuating circumstances have led to this decision and we are truly sorry for the inconvenience this may cause. Again, our sincere apologies.”

There was no mention made in the email about providing a refund.

Kristen Zimmerlie of Australia says she discovered the company was no longer operating and paid a deposit of $659 for a trip.

“I do have travel insurance but it doesn’t cover a company shutdown,” she said.

“My finances are limited…so I really need my refund.”

Global News first became aware of problems with Moose Travel East in April after a former employee claimed he didn’t get reimbursed for expenses on trips he led.

Randy Schwark said the company’s owner, Megan Lalancette, ignored him, and said she used the same tactics with customers seeking refunds when trips were cancelled by the company.

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“I can’t believe she continues to do this again and again giving Toronto and Canada such a bad name for those who come her to experience a good time,” Schwark said.

Reached by Global News, Lalancette said, “We sent him money, everything is resolved,” referring to Schwark’s claim for outstanding expenses.

Sarah Malik of Toronto booked a tour of Eastern Canada in August 2018. She was unable to travel and was promised a 75 per cent refund, according to the company’s policy.

“I have tried relentlessly to get money back from…Megan Lalancette. She kept saying it will come and she is surprised it hasn’t,” Malik said, about her efforts to get her deposit returned.

Eventually, after Global News contacted Lalancette, the company refunded Malik the $996 she was owed—almost ten months after she paid the company in full for the tour.

In another case, Merle Steimke of Germany paid Moose Travel East about $1400 for an eight-day “Snowplow” tour. However, nine days before the trip was to begin in February, the company cancelled the tour and promised a refund.

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Steimke said Lalancette originally promised to repay the money via PayPal, but the money was not refunded at the time.

“I am so angry. I believe she never tried to refund me and only told me the whole time that she tries her best,” Steimke wrote.

Lalancette’s lawyer, William Sharpe, said his client “endeavoured to process a refund transaction through its customers European bank portal, which technically was not possible to complete. It was not until the customer provided the PayPal account information that Moose Travel was able to complete the refund.”

Following a Global News broadcast story about Steimke’s situation, the German woman got her money back within hours. (That story originally reported that she had been waiting a year to obtain a refund; in fact, the company had been holding her money about seven months.)

“I just woke up to really good news! I got the notification that Moose Travel sent me money via PayPal four hours ago. I finally got my refund back. I still must dreaming!” Steimke wrote, thanking Global News for reporting her story and helping her get the money back.

Lalancette declined to speak on camera about her business, but answered some questions by telephone.

She originally declined any knowledge about Malik or Steimke’s situations, even though she had corresponded with the German woman several times a month earlier.

“I’m not a fraudster whatsoever,” said Lalancette.

“I haven’t fled with money, that’s not the case at all,” she said.

When asked why customers who are owed refunds didn’t receive them, Lalancette said: “You’re right: It does seem bizarre.”

On June 11, customer Liam Bui of Vancouver filed a formal complaint with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre alleging Lalancette’s company did not repay $1934 for a booking that was cancelled. Eventually, his credit card company charged back the payment to Moose Travels and his money has been returned by the bank.

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Lalancette’s lawyer said customers will get their money back.

“Moose Travel has consulted legal and financial advisors and is making orderly arrangements for payment of refunds to customers. A general notice of cancellation for customers who have booked future tours will be issued to these customers shortly,” the lawyer wrote, in an email.

“Because of a difficult business environment, Moose Travel (East) ceased selling tours in May 2019,” Sharpe added.

Now, the company is facing an investigation by Ontario’s travel regulator.

Travel companies based in Ontario that sell travel services, including accommodations and transportation, are required to be registered with the Travel Industry Council of Ontario, known commonly as TICO.

“Moose Travel is not registered with TICO,” said Richard Smart, the industry regulator’s president and CEO.

“We are aware of the matter with Moose Travel and have received consumer complaints since late last week,” he told Global News.

“TICO has a process to investigate allegations of someone acting or holding themselves out as a travel agent without TICO registration. TICO has the authority to lay charges, and if convicted in court, penalties can include fines of up to $50,000 for individuals, $250,000 for corporations and jail time of up to two years,” said Smart.

TICO said its investigation is ongoing but Moose Travel East is not facing charges at this time.

Moose Travel East, based in Ontario, is a separate company from Moose Run Adventures, also known as Moose West, based in Vancouver.

Some consumers, frustrated at being unable to get refunds, contacted the B.C. company demanding answers.

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“We are a completely different business so there’s no financial tie to the eastern company,” said Corey Kirkham, managing director for Moose Travel West.

Kirkham and his team had looked into purchasing the Toronto operations, but instead recently bought only the brand name and company website.

“We decided that the financials from our perspective did not match what we were interested in,” said Kirkham.

In a telephone interview, Lalancette told Global News “we’re in the process of declaring bankruptcy”, but the company’s lawyer said that isn’t the case.

“Moose Travel has not been placed in receivership,” said Sharpe, and pointed out that the company’s terms and conditions specify that customers “allow up to six to eight weeks for any refunds.”

Customer Eimear Fitzgerald is hoping public pressure will cause Moose Travel East to refund the $1639 he’s owed.

“They are not responding to my phone calls or emails.”

TICO is encouraging anyone who has not received a refund from Moose Travel East to contact them and file a complaint.

With files from Alvin Yu