CLEARWATER, Fla. — Clearwater Police arrested a woman after she claimed to be an independent travel agent scammed families hoping to go on vacation out of thousands of dollars.
"People work hard for their money and they value their vacations. I only have one vacation a year, that was it," said Xvira Hillmon.
Xvira Hillmon said she planned to go on a cruise to the Bahamas with about 20 of her cousins for a family reunion.
Officers said Sharell Ortiz would post a flyer on Facebook claiming to be an independent travel agent.
Ortiz received payments through cash, check and two different PayPal accounts, according to an arrest report. The arrest report also stated, "a total of $3,375 was located from subpoena results from a PayPal under the name 'BOOKWITHSHARELL.'
Hillmon said she gave Ortiz at least $1,000 and her family also gave her hundreds of dollars.
"She said she was going to get this cruise going and that we were all going to have such a good time," said Hillmon.
According to the arrest report, Ortiz would cancel the victim's cruises before departure or use a fraudulent credit card to book the trip.
"We didn't find out until the night before. We were all packed ready to go," said Alikisha Baldwin.
The Federal Trade Commission suggests checking with local authorities to see if the travel agent you're using is credible. They also suggest contacting the American Society of Travel Advisors for more information. Experts say pay with a credit card and do not use cash or check.
Hillmon said she ended up not going on the cruise. Some of her other family members did but booked a reservation using the cruise line.
"Go through a travel agent, go through Carnival yourself. She sold us a good dream and we went with it. She's done it before," said Baldwin.
Ortiz was booked on scheme to defraud charges. She has bonded out of jail.
ABC Action News reached Ortiz by phone, but she hung up once we asked her about her arrest.