Taipei prosecutors yesterday charged the US owners of WorldVentures Taiwan (環宇全球公司), Kenneth Edward Head and Jonathon Starks McKillip, with contravening the Multi-Level Marketing Supervision Act (多層次傳銷管理法), which protects people from pyramid schemes.
On the international business registry, the former is listed as Eddie Head, president and chief strategy officer of WorldVentures Holding Ltd, while the latter was listed as a director until he resigned in 2011.
WorldVentures Holding is WorldVentures Taiwan’s parent company and is registered in Cyprus.
The company’s international Web site says that WorldVentures has been the world’s leading direct seller of vacation club memberships for more than 10 years, offering travel services and “DreamTrip” packages at discount prices.
People need to pay NT$8,800 (US$280.7) to join WorldVentures Taiwan as a basic member, in addition to a monthly membership fee of NT$2,000, prosecutors said, adding that people with gold, platinum and higher memberships enjoy more perks and benefits.
The company began operating in Taipei in May 2015, prosecutors said, adding that last year it had about 1,300 members in Taiwan.
News reports last year said that WorldVentures had 500,000 members in 28 countries.
Prosecutors said that WorldVentures Taiwan operates like a classic pyramid scheme, in which club members are asked to sell travel products, and recruit friends and family as lower-level members to earn points and waive their monthly fees.
The Fair Trade Commission (FTC) last year launched an investigation, after the Travel Agent Association reported that customers were complaining that WorldVentures Taiwan was contravening travel industry regulations and not fulfilling its promises.
The commission in June last year fined WorldVentures Taiwan NT$3.6 million, citing evidence that the company had contravened business regulations by engaging in questionable multi-level marketing schemes.
The case was then passed on to prosecutors.
When the company launched in Taiwan, executives applied to register as a multi-level direct sales business with the FTC, but also applied to the Taiwan Tourism Bureau for a tourism business license.
The bureau did not approve the license, saying that “direct sales” was entirely different from tourism, so the company was not allowed to establish a travel agency.
Thereafter, WorldVentures Taiwan stressed that it was a direct sales and club membership business that mainly offered recreational activities and holiday travel packages.
According to US news reports and anti-fraud Web sites, 21 lawsuits were filed against WorldVentures in California, Texas, Louisiana and Delaware from 2008 to last year.
Plaintiffs in a 2017 lawsuit in California said that WorldVentures rewards recruiting over travel package sales; that it is nothing more than a Web site that compiles travel package plans from other sites, with prices in excess of popular travel sites such as Expedia and Travelocity; and that its income disclosure statement is misleading and confusing.
The company has been banned from doing business in Norway because the government found that it was an illegal pyramid scheme.
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