• More than 2,000 people have accused travel agency Hello Darlings of defrauding them of thousands of rands after booking their dream holiday.
  • The group is on a mission to do whatever it takes to get their hard-earned money back.
  • The Hello Darlings CEO has since deactivated all of her social media accounts and is believed to have fled the country.

Expensive flights and swanky five-star hotels in luxurious destinations around the world – it sounded like the perfect holiday for thousands of guests in South Africa, but none got their money’s worth.

Now, a group of disgruntled customers are on a mission to do whatever it takes to get their hard-earned money back from a travel company called Hello Darlings, after the company never honored the deals.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the group, which formed on Telegram, had more than 2,500 members.

Hundreds of messages were shared about their grievances and the difficulty of not being able to reach the CEO of the company.

The group alleged that she could have fled the country.

Several of the group’s customers said they had opened cases with the police, but were waiting for their case numbers.

Customers provided News24 with the last numbers they used to communicate with the CEO, but everything went to voicemail.

The company’s number also went unanswered.

But this has not always been the case.

In the past, customers would go on “incredible vacations”, a woman, who previously worked for the CEO, told News24.

“I was helping her with the administration for six months, but as an influencer, I’ve been advertising for her for a few years now and there’s been no problem all the years. All the trips from the past are went as planned,” the woman said. , who asked not to be named, said.

“People have had amazing trips and now all of a sudden refunds are not being paid and she’s just disappeared. There are people in the Maldives right now with unpaid accommodation.”

The woman added that she quit the business in January after several customers failed to receive refunds.

“I was harassed for people’s money while we are not responsible for their money because all the money went to a private account. People harassed us for their money and refunds and we are not responsible for this.”

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She said her family was also allegedly scammed while on vacation by the CEO.

“My parents, she owes them R68,000 for a trip to America in December last year and my aunt was booked for a trip to Dubai and she owes R60,000. My cousin is currently booked for a trip in March and she do not know what continues the journey.

The woman added that she could not reach the CEO because she had disappeared.

“She has a mobile number from Dubai and it was active but it looked like she blocked us all. Today it says ‘no longer on WhatsApp’.

“We don’t know what the situation is right now and all we know is that she is unreachable. Her Instagram account is deleted and she is unreachable.”

One of the Telegram group members, Michael Rentzke from Cape Town, told News24 that his family had saved up 10 years for a vacation abroad.

Rentzke said he saw an advertisement of a “buy one, get one special” in Mauritius from March 18 to 25. The package was for two adults and two children at a five star resort.

He added that he paid Hello Darlings R42,000 through First National Bank in January 2022.

It sounded like the perfect family vacation.

“My family was very excited for this trip. My son, who will be four in March, counted on a calendar. And then this morning we had to tell him that we couldn’t go anymore because a lady told us stole our money and now we can’t steal.

“His response was, don’t worry, he has more money in his blue piggy bank. My heart broke,” Rentzke told News24.

He said they had only received a trickle of information from staff since booking their holiday.

Since March, Rentzke added, they had been following the CEO “more intensively” and she replied to most messages with voice notes and assured them that her bookers were working on issuing the tickets.

“Yesterday evening [Monday]the time bomb finally went off and my wife told me that another woman, who was booked on the same trip as ours, had messaged to say that [the CEO] had deleted all his social media accounts from all platforms.

“We were both completely shocked by it all and barely slept. Ten years of savings practically disappeared overnight.

He added:

I keep wondering, how could I be so stupid? I work in the hospitality industry and I know what to expect. Before booking and paying I checked if Hello Darlings had a website as I only knew of it from Instagram. He does have a website.

“So in my mind we got an invoice for the holiday, we checked references with other parties, we checked if it was a registered company.

“So I think we tried to make sure it was legit. Until yesterday my wife was seeing messages from normal families like ours who had been booked through Hello Darlings and are currently in Mauritius.

“I just wish I could get my money back to take my family on their dream vacation,” Rentzke said.

Mahdiyyah Patel added that her family decided in early January to book a trip to Turkey after seeing positive reviews of Hello Darlings from two influencers.

“They loved his packages, and it looked really good. We decided in early January to book Turkey this year with the intention of going to celebrate my husband’s 30th birthday.

“We tried to book on our own, then we saw her special which was all inclusive for R30,000. I immediately contacted her, and she even agreed to exchange the hot air balloon in Cappadocia for a tour because we couldn’t ride a hot air balloon with our daughter,” Patel told News24.

She provided proof of their invoice for R29,995.

Patel added that after receiving the invoice, the CEO requested payment, but they had a problem with their bank.

She kept pestering her for payment. They finally made a payment and asked for a receipt and plane tickets.

Patel said the CEO told them she couldn’t give them the receipt and tickets until the end of April. She then added them to a WhatsApp group.

“Yesterday evening [Monday], when we learned what had happened, we tried to contact her to no avail. Its admin team are rude and take no responsibility and didn’t provide information.

Patelle said:

We are upset, angry and discouraged. Covid has been tough financially and emotionally, now that on top of everything. We used all our savings to fund this trip and we are now dry.

“Also, we all work hard for our money and have been through a tough time, we all want some downtime. No one has the right to judge us or make sarcastic remarks that don’t help anyone,” he said. she added.

Another discouraged customer, who asked to remain anonymous, also provided News24 with proof that he had paid 33,000 rand for a trip to Turkey.

“We were due to leave on Thursday March 10. The flights were booked and our visas were issued to us.

“The tickets were then refunded to [the CEO]. I called Emirates and they said it had been refunded. I lost R33,000 of hard earned money that I saved.

“I don’t understand why bother to make the reservations if she was planning to disappear? Why bother? She ripped us off by refunding the ticket. But why book the ticket in the first place? I’m very disappointed.”

A couple, who also spoke to News24 on condition of anonymity, said they came across the CEO’s Instagram page through advertising from numerous South African influencers, all claiming it was a “legit business”.

“Of course, his page seemed too good to be true with such discounted package prices. I spoke to several people who were also following his page, everyone confirmed to me that they really are as good as they are. sell it, many of my friends and family have had successful experiences with its travel packages.

“My husband and I took our time deciding whether or not to go, we felt like we were missing out on a great opportunity as the adverts kept urging people to book ‘while there was still room and availability”.

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“On October 7, 2021, we unfortunately committed to the Maldives package which was due to travel from January 10-17, 2022. This was supposed to be our dream honeymoon destination.”

The couple also paid R12,500 for a room upgrade and were told the tickets would be issued a month before departure. But when South Africa was put on the travelers’ red list in December, their trip was cancelled.

The couple postponed their March 10-17 trip, but weeks before they left, their message to the Hello Darlings administration team went unanswered.

“All weekend before the March trip, my husband was talking to [the CEO] directly to her number, she was insisting on tickets being issued but the date the tickets were issued kept changing.

“We contacted the resort, they said she had booked the rooms, but they did not receive any payment for it. My husband and I are still students, we have been saving for our honeymoon for 6 years and are absolutely upset that [the CEO of] Hello Darlings could pull off such a shot.

“She scammed us and we are disheartened by the money we lost, the trip we were so desperately looking forward to and saving for. This woman needs to be stopped. Her administrative team must be held accountable. Influencers who supported her legitimacy must be held accountable.”

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